By the Blouin News World staff

Peru’s culinary diplomacy

by in Americas.

A man cleans quinoa grain in Pacoma, Bolivia.

A man cleans quinoa grain in Pacoma, Bolivia. Juan Karita/AP

 The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations declared 2013 as the International Year of the Quinoa, a high-protein, grain-like crop from the Andes. Whether consumers of quinoa around the world associate this crop with Peru, a major producer of quinoa, is debatable. Nevertheless, quinoa’s widespread popularity is helping the Peruvian government expand its international presence via culinary diplomacy.

This grain-like crop originates from the Andes, and is produced by countries like Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru and now also in nations like the U.S. However, it is the Peruvian government which has carried out an (admittedly successful) international diplomatic campaign to tie the idea to the consumer that Peru is a major producer of the most flavorful and healthiest types of quinoa.

The best example of this diplomatic initiative was the U.N.’s designation of 2013 as the year of quinoa. This past February, Peru’s First Lady Nadine Heredia participated in a ceremony at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York, in which Heredia and Bolivia’s President Evo Morales received the honorary title of “special ambassadors” to promote quinoa consumption. Unsurprisingly, the Year of the Quinoa culminated with ceremonies in Puno (a region in Southern Peru) and in Bolivia in mid-December. First Lady Heredia was also in attendance, as well as Jose Graziano da Silva, the director general of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Furthermore, there have been cultural and culinary initiatives sponsored by the Peruvian government to increase the consumption of quinoa abroad and associate it with that particular Andean nation. For example, in March the Peruvian consulate in Panama organized a culinary competition in which the goal was for amateur chefs to create a fusion of traditional Panamanian food ingredients with quinoa.

As for how the quinoa is helping the Peruvian economy; the country produces 40 thousand hectares of the crop annually, and it aims to reach 50,000 by 2014. The Peruvian Ministry of External Commerce and Tourism reports the exports of Peruvian quinoa in the first half of 2013 increased by 61%, compared to the same period in 2012. Milton Von Hesse, Peru’s Minister of Agriculture, declared this past September that the goal is that by 2016, Peru will have surpassed Bolivia as the world’s biggest quinoa producer.

But while Peru has grand ambitions regarding how quinoa can expand its international presence, there is more that it will have to do, not just exporting more quinoa than neighboring Bolivia. Receiving positive media articles are always a welcomed development. For example, in October, Bloomberg news agency published an article with the flattering title “How Bolivian Farmers Made the World Crave Quinoa.” The author of the article reported how he traveled to Bolivia to taste the crop, which was “bursting with flavor, and so fresh that it still had tiny bits of dirt in it, making it crunchy to eat.”

In spite of Bolivia’s current dominant role in the quinoa market, the growing international consumption of quinoa is also aiding Peru to have a greater international culinary presence. In a November 2013 Working Paper for the Argentine think tank Centro Argentino de Estudios Internacionales, the author of this commentary discussed Peruvian geopolitics and its prospects of becoming a regional powerhouse in Latin America. In the analysis, I suggested that Peru should embark in an aggressive “culinary diplomacy” by taking advantage of its rich agricultural resources and well-regarded traditional dishes. Capitalizing on the global craze over quinoa was a well thought-out initiative by the Peruvian government.

Finally, apart from the popular crop, Peru’s international culinary presence is also expanding via its traditional cuisine. For example, Gaston Acurio, the country’s most renowned chef, has opened several restaurants across the United States. In September, the chef opened a restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Miami. Furthermore, restaurants that offer Peruvian dishes, including the famous pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken) have appeared in several major U.S. cities, such as Washington D.C.

As the International Year of the Quinoa comes to an end, the growing consumption of Peruvian crops and dishes gives the Andean nation an important culinary momentum with which to greet 2014. Whether the Peruvian government can capitalize on it in the near future remains to be seen.