Quinoa, an ancient seed that’s neither a grain nor a grass, has been in the spotlight thanks to dietary trends in the U.S. and globally, with the United Nations declaring 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa.” The mostly South American grown pseudo-cereal grain has been a favorite of consumers looking for gluten-free options at home and in restaurants. Quinoa is a good alternative to rice in dishes like pilafs or, for gluten-free formulation of baked goods, it can replace wheat, barley and rye.
Trending non-wheat pasta formulation also includes quinoa as an alternative.
Quinoa’s emergence as a popular new ingredient has called to attention South America as a source of novel-to-us foods with impressive healthful benefits. Peru is activating a campaign to keep it top-of-mind as a source of Quinoa internationally, but Bolivia is also a top producer and neighboring Ecuador plans on expanded production, according to the Washington Post.
And the U.S. is also developing plans for added production, specifically in the Pacific Northwest
Although there is a large gap between the farm gate price for quinoa and its ingredient value in importers such as the U.S., Lydia Depillis of the Washington Post notes that the export of quinoa has nonetheless enabled higher incomes in countries like Peru, leading to a higher standard of living in farming communities.
Why all the buzz? Well, it’s easy to see why quinoa will be around for some time because of its nutritious benefits, delivering high amounts of protein and fiber. A complete protein, delivering a big serving of the nine essential amino acids, quinoa has also appealed to vegetarians and vegans.
Gluten-free attributes woo Celiac Disease sufferers and those with gluten-free sensitivity so these consumer groups will continue to present a demand for quinoa. Packaged Facts estimated gluten-free food and beverage sales to approach $5B in 2013 and $6.5B in 2017 in its 2012 report, Gluten-Free Foods and Beverages in the U.S., Fourth Edition.
At the time, nearly one in five consumers (18%) surveyed by Packaged Facts said they had purchased gluten-free products in the past 30 days.
Quinoa continues to evolve from manufacturing to foodservice. Toddlers need not be excluded from partaking with offerings such as Sprout’s Stage 2 organic baby product (see inline photo, credit Sprout) that includes both oatmeal and quinoa in its formulation. And adults will find and enjoy upscale on-premise applications such as the Pan Seared Scallops lunch entree at the West End Bistro in Washington, D.C.
The National Restaurant Association says 76% of chefs in its 2013 What’s Hot Chef Survey say that gluten-free is a “hot trend.” In addition, 68% of chefs polled in the American Culinary Foundation co-sponsored report noted that ancient grains is a top trend.
Quinoa, the “little seed that could,” looks poised to be continue its popularity, driven by its nutritional and dietary positioning, and prove lucrative to the food industry.
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