November 20, 2013: Quinoa

Has your restaurant put quinoa on the menu yet? If so, then you know how suddenly popular the grain (pronounced “keen-wah”) is. But if you’ve been hesitant to add this healthy, gluten-free, exotic ingredient then you should know Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) calls quinoa “the menu ingredient of the year.”

Quinoa comes from South America, so it’s a natural to incorporate it onto menus serving Latin American foods, says the magazine. But all types of restaurants are adding quinoa to their menus, and using the grain in salads, side dishes and entrees, particularly quinoa-based bowls (filled with chicken, or “power bowls” featuring kale). The fact that the grain is gluten-free is one of the primary drivers of quinoa’s popularity. It can easily substitute for rice or even pasta in some recipes. NRN also found some innovative uses of quinoa-as a dessert menu item or as an ingredient in pancake batter.

NRN predicts quinoa will “pick up speed on menus” as customers become more familiar with the grain. The magazine expects restaurant owners to “exploit” quinoa’s healthy profile, but says its “real selling point” is the creative and numerous ways the grain can be incorporated into so many diverse types of menus.