Is the So-Called Quinoa 'Backlash' for Real?

Wall Street Journal thinks so—based on the opinions of six haters.

(Photo: Johnnystilleto/Flickr)

Oct 1, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

It’s tough being a superfood.

A mere five months after one of the country’s leading restaurant trade publications declared that “quinoa has gone mainstream,” a headline in the Wall Street Journal announces, “Quinoa Faces Backlash.”

Like any number of these so-called “trend” articles big-time newspapers like to publish, it’s hard to tell whether the purported backlash is real or this is just a writer with a deadline trying to drum up some semblance of a story.

The article cites a Vancouver-based food writer who posted her screed “Five Reasons to Hate Quinoa,” and an Iowa blogger who (gasp!) posted on Twitter, “I’m just going to come right out and say it: I don’t actually like quinoa.”

Some of the quinoa haters get a lot more clever. “A ‘Dickensian gruel’ is how another Twitter user described it,” the WSJ reports. “Someone else likened the translucent grains to ‘itty-bitty tadpoles that twitch around in ponds.’” Which is funny, sure, but seems perplexing to anyone who’s ever actually had quinoa—itty-bitty frog's eyes maybe?

All in all, the article cites six anti-quinoa partisans by name (including one in far-flung Kuwait), and tosses in a handful of anonymous web postings. The fact that there’s a half dozen or even a dozen people in the country (plus one in the Middle East!) who don’t like quinoa would hardly seem to constitute a “backlash.” I’m sure you can find that many people on the web who think, say, ice cream is disgusting. Just imagine: “A sugar bomb of cold swamp slime likely to produce a sudden sensation of ice-picks jabbing behind your eyes.” See, it’s pretty easy to diss something even if you actually love it.

Now, to be sure, I’m just as suspicious (perhaps more so) of anyone who professes a passion for quinoa as I am of this supposed army of detractors. To say you love quinoa is like saying you love straight brown rice or unbuttered whole-wheat toast or plain yogurt; it’s the equivalent of going gaga for granola.

You like it not because you love it, but because you know it’s good for you, and in a recipe like Ian Knauer’s roasted carrots with summer succotash quinoa, it doesn't taste at all bad.

But fundamentally, quinoa’s appeal is linked to its status as a superfood superstar: Packed with a bunch of nutrients, it’s a protein powerhouse—one of the few non-meat foods that contains all nine amino acids.

No one ever promised that quinoa would taste like a cronut.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve got this ridiculous government shutdown on the brain, but I find it interesting that the story would appear in the Wall Street Journal; it has a whiff of that disdain for so-called “liberal elites.” You know, those quinoa-eating, Prius-driving, NPR-listening folks who believe in things like global warming and affordable healthcare. If one can make such assumptions, it may be that readers of, say, The New York Times, with its recent recipes for things like Quinoa and Cauliflower Kugel and Quinoa Salad with Avocado and Kalamata Olives, prefer their culinary ingredients a bit exotic and unpronounceable—while readers of the Wall Street Journal prefer the same for their derivatives.

But any notion that some sort liberal food police is forcing inedible health food on Americans is just plain silly. As Nation’s Restaurant News reported back in April, such conventional restaurant chains as First Watch and Seasons 52 (a corporate cousin of such Main Street staples as Olive Garden and Red Lobster) are now offering quinoa-based dishes—and people are buying them.

As much as conservatives seem to want to believe that Americans are meat-and-potato eaters who, say, love having no health insurance, maybe the real truth is that many of them are more than receptive to a taste of something different.