Thursday, May 1, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Superfoods

     Recently at work the discussion turned to food, as it often does, and for the first time I heard about “superfoods.”  Specifically a grain called quinoa.  Quinoa is billed as being an especially healthy grain, and has recently become more popular in the U.S.  Well, of course I was intrigued.  Luckily, one of the folks talking about it (Hi Tracey) generously gave me a sample, in the form of a granola-type bar.  And not only would I be getting quinoa, but another “super grain” called amaranth.
     Quinoa originated in the Andes region of South America, in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Columbia.  Its history with humans is quite extensive—it was being used between 5,200—7,000 years ago, and domesticated between 3,000—4,000 years ago.  It’s referred to as a pseudocereal, as it’s not technically a grass.  Instead, it’s related to spinach, beetroot, and tumbleweed.  Like some other plants and insects, it has the defense mechanism of tasting like crap to birds, as it contains a bitter outer coating.  Humans tend to find this coating off putting, too, which is why it’s processed before our species consumes it.  Most folks eat the seeds, although the leaves are edible as well.  And what I heard was true—it’s becoming popular in the U.S. as well as China, Japan, Canada, and Europe.  Amaranth is cultivated in Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru again.  Its leaves, roots, and seeds are all edible.  It’s notable for being especially easy to cook and digest.
     But on to the crux of the matter—these grains’ nutritional value.  Both of these are high in protein and are gluten free.  Quinoa also contains significant amounts of iron, phosphorus, and calcium.  Quinoa has more protein than barley, millet, potatoes, and brown rice.  However, it has less protein than legumes and beans.  But still, both qualify as being super grains and superfoods.
     Here’s the problem.  “Superfood” is a marketing term.  It was apparently invented by Aaron Moss in 1998 in Nature Nutrition, and it’s defined as being, “A food that is considered to be beneficial to your health and that may even help some medical conditions.”  Now take a look at some of the other foods that have been labeled superfoods:  seeds, nuts, berries, collard greens, kale, chard, brussel sprouts, broccoli, dark green vegetables in general, salmon, sardines, mackerel, citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, peanuts, lentils, beans, some mushrooms, and whole grains.  Or, in other words, pretty much every food in the world except for red meat, sugar, and egg nog.  Furthermore, and this is beginning to be a broken record in my blogs, none of the superfoods have scientifically proven medical benefits.  (Aside from treating starvation, I guess.)
     Anyway, the bar I tried advertised not two, but five supergrains—quinoa, amaranth, oats, millet, and buckwheat.  It was made by Kind, and was their peanut butter dark chocolate flavor.  And the taste was mediocre at best.  It did have a nice moist texture, but it was kind of bland.  I’ve tried many granola-type, grain bars over the years (they make for very portable field lunches), and this was far from the best.  I was able to try some individual quinoa seeds, and they were okay, but not dazzling, either.  The oats helped, but overall the effort was weak.  (I should explain.  I’m kind of mad for oats.  As a kid I used to even eat uncooked Quaker oats dry, out of the box.)  I wouldn’t have this type of Kind again, and probably not the other varieties, either.  Not when there are so many other proven, tastier grain bars for sale.  I’m willing to try quinoa and amaranth in other forms, but I can’t say I’d be that excited.
     Overall then, the topic of this week’s post was quite the bust.  My childish hopes were raised by the terms “superfoods” and “super grains,” and these turned out to be exaggerated just to boost sales.  And, the actual food itself, made out of five so called super grains, wasn’t great to boot.
     To end on a more positive note, though, I do like one of the new labels I learned for this post—calling quinoa a “pseudocereal.”  I’d like to expand that for other foods and beverages.  That weird, plastic-y processed vegetable oil “cheese product” could be renamed “pseudocheese.”  The (usually soy based) vegetarian burgers would be “pseudomeat.”  And light beer would be more properly referred to as “pseudobeer.”


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