Today’s Wall Street Journal has an installment in its How We Eat series titled “Quinoa Rides the Superfoods Wave”. The term Superfood had been bandied about for the past decade and has really taken hold over the past few years. There is no specific definition of superfoods and, of yet, the term is not regulated. Generally, it is meant to include foods that contain high levels of vitamins, antioxidants and protein.
How does a food become a “superfood”. It seems to be a combination of our curiosity about new and exotic foods and tastes, a stronger emphasis on health, often driven by advocates with tremendous media influence (read: Dr. Oz), the explosion of cooking shows, cookbooks and recipe searching and food businesses looking for the next big thing.
Popular superfoods include fairly common foods such as blueberries and avocados and others that are fairly new to the Western palate such as acai berries, chia seeds, amaranth and, of course, quinoa. So, why is it that, at least for now, quinoa has been crowned the king of the superfoods? Well, to start with, quinoa packs protein, fiber, iron and many other minerals. It’s very versatile and can be eaten alone, in salads, with grilled vegetables and can even be made into rice, flour and pasta. And that last part is, perhaps, where quinoa gets its extra boost up the superfood chain.
Although quinoa can be made into flour, rice and pasta, it does not contain gluten. Gluten is the name given to protein found in wheat, rye and barley. People with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten damages the small intestine, need to avoid gluten. There are others who don’t suffer from celiac disease but have either a gluten allergy or intolerance and suffer negative effects from eating gluten. There are many others who believe that avoiding gluten is a healthy idea. The gluten-free food market is burgeoning.
While quinoa is a healthy food, it seems that its status as an uber-superfood is related to the fact that it has entered the broader marketplace at the precise time that gluten free diets have become very popular. In food, like anything else, timing is everything.