Quinoa, an ancient wholegrain widely regarded as a superfood, has been in the spotlight since Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak recently revealed that he prefers quinoa to rice.
It sparked an uproar and he was criticised for being out of touch with the people, as quinoa is a pricey ingredient compared with rice.
The grain comes from a flowering plant in the amaranth family and is rich in fibre and protein.
Ms Law Chin Chin, consultation dietitian of nutrition consultancy Food & Nutrition Specialists and Thomson Medical Centre, says: “By substituting refined grains such as white rice with quinoa, you would be able to get more good quality protein and dietary fibre.
“A diet high in fibre may help with better control of body weight and reduction of blood sugar as well as risk of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.”
Quinoa (say KEEN-wah) is gluten-free and available in several colours.
The most widely cultivated versions are white, red and black. In terms of nutritional values, they are quite similar except that red and black quinoa may contain higher antioxidant levels, says Ms Law.
While quinoa is not new to the dining scene in Singapore, it has become a more mainstream grain over the years and is not only used as a staple for salads.
The grain is sold in supermarkets and organic shops, which carry a variety of quinoa products such as chips, wraps and even “milk”.
There is also a growing crop of hip ancient grains such as millet, teff and farro gaining popularity among the health-conscious.
Mr Lim Her-Yi, 34, owner of Bud Of Joy Organic Bakery and Store in Circuit Road, has been selling organic grains since 2013 and also makes organic spelt breads ($11). The store stocks organic millet ($8.80 for 1kg) and organic red quinoa ($16 for 1kg).
He says: “We started selling organic grains when we noticed that they are nutrient-dense and are good as baby’s first food when ground up and cooked into a thin paste. There is a greater demand as consumers are more informed about such grains.”
Executive chef Gisela Salazar Golding, 34, of healthy grain bowl restaurant chain Grain Traders, has introduced a “Grain-Of-The-Month” at its two outlets in Market Street and Tras Street, showcasing grains such as farro and millet.
She says: “Quinoa is our most popular grain. We cook about 8kg of quinoa every day at our CapitaGreen outlet.”
Dr Chan Tat Hon, 50, chef-owner of casual restaurant The Bento People in Kallang Avenue, which serves healthy meals, says that response to quinoa was poor when it was offered on the restaurant’s Make Your Own Healthy Bento menu three years ago.
He says: “Currently, at least 40 per cent of customers would have one of our quinoa options for their bento.
“Many who are not familiar with quinoa come to try. Our regulars are also more health-conscious and familiar with quinoa as well.”
Public relations consultant and health coach Melody Chong, 40, says she tried many gluten-free grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet and teff before finding out that she was gluten-intolerant last year.
She eats the grains as cereal or with almond milk and fruit, and gets her supplies from speciality shops such as Ryan’s Grocery in Binjai Park and Little Farms at Valley Point.
She says: “As more people discover how these grains can benefit their health, they are more adventurous about trying them.
“But it takes time and education for people to realise how these grains can taste good when prepared in the right way. Then they can be open to new superfood grains that are healthier options.
“Many have the stereotypical view that the grains are bland and boring.”
A version of this story first appeared in The Straits Times