Your quinoa is sourced from Bolivia where it is the staple food for the indigenous people in the mountainous Altiplano regions. While the video above has been made for the USA, people from the same region grow the quinoa we use at Kialla.
The variety of quinoa we sell, also known as Royal Quinoa, thrives in the dry climate around the Uyuni salt flats almost 4000 metres above sea level.
The salt flats themselves, some 12 000 square kms, were formed after salt lakes were drained by seismic shifts in tectonic plates about 25 000 years ago. Around the volcanic slopes bordering the salt flats the indigenous growers farm llamas and quinoa, as they have for hundreds of years. Many live in villages without running water and electricity, but have skilfully farmed a region that is one of the driest in the world, since long before the Spanish arrived.
To grow the quinoa they select seeds then plant them by hand in dry ground the size of a football field. White, red and black quinoa varieties are often planted together in the same area.
The seeds sprout as soon as they are watered, but need to be protected from frost (by covering the seedling with dry grasses), and from strong winds (using low stone walls). As well they need to keep keen wild vicuñas (small deer-like animals) and ostriches from eating the greenery, in an area where, as you can imagine, there’s not much of interest to eat!
By January, after 3 months of growth over the summer months, the quinoa plants are taller than a man. A month later the heads of the plants start to change colour and by March the rich spectrum of reds and yellows are evident in the seeds and plants are ready to harvest. Cut by hand, they are bundled, or sheaved, in the field to dry.
In countries like Australia, the seed would be separated from the plant (threshing) using the thresher machine attached to a tractor. In Uyuni people do this by hand shaking the grain through reaper-binder which looks like a large table sieve.
Once bagged it’s loaded on trucks and taken to the capital La Paz, where it will be processed. At the cleaning facility it’s de-stoned and double washed in glacier water to remove the bitter saponin coating, as well as the twigs, and then dried on racks. All the work is done by hand. When it comes to grading the quinoa they use a gravity separator similar to the ones we have at Kialla, which separates the grain into sizes.
Finally it is quality checked and boxed, then packed into shipping containers for export. Bolivia is a land-locked country, so the shipping containers are loaded onto trucks and taken to the nearest port in Chile. From here it’s shipped around the world. The Australian distributors send it through to Kialla where we mill it and send it off to our clients.