Is Quinoa Dead?

January  5, 2016

The other afternoon, like all afternoons, I was strategizing dinner with my roommate who, let it be said, does not work in the food biz. Roasted vegetables and some sort of sauce, yes, but what would the bulk of our meal be?

"Well we have quinoa," she said. And then we categorically dismissed it. No questions asked, no objections raised.

Yeah, you can make quinoa salad without a recipe—but do you want to? Photo by James Ransom

We decided on farro—more substantial, more toothsome (I hate that word, but it seems well suited here), more sure of itself. (I'm exhausted by having to explain that quinoa is a seed even though it's grouped with the grains. Can't we just agree on a term and stick with it?)

When I got to Whole Foods, the only available farro was $7.99 for about two dry cups, with no bulk bin option available. "Who do you think I am, Whole Foods?" I said to the Grocery Gods/no one in particular.

And so, we resigned ourselves to quinoa, a half-empty bag of which was sulking in the pantry. It was fine; it was fluffy; dinner was good.

Sorry quinoa, but I choose farro. Photo by James Ransom

But what did our quick rejection of quinoa indicate? Were we both thinking, "Quinoa is so five years ago"? Were we immune to its charms, having seen it on seemingly every restaurant menu ever since even before the U.N. dedicated an entire year to it? And hello, there's even a McCafé serving kale and quinoa salads in Toronto.

I'd like to think that my waning interest in quinoa is not because its competitors are being heavily marketed to me (though that very well may be the case), but because I truly prefer other grains (or seeds, or whatever). Quinoa aspires to be fluffy and light, but I don't want to float away on my grains (or seeds, or whatever). I don't want them to be airy.

For my everyday consumption, I'm looking for something that's hearty and robust and not inclined to water-log. I understand that quinoa has a time and a place and a million and one uses, but it's no longer my go-to grain/seed.

It's not you, it's me... okay, it's you Photo by James Ransom

And that may be true not only in my small household, but also in the world at at large.

Looking at the Google Trend below, you can see that, while searches for quinoa are on the rise and spike every January, the rate at which the searches are increasing is slowing down. Interest in quinoa, if still high, seems to be plateauing. The hills and valleys for 2014 and 2015 look pretty similar.

Photo by Google Trends

Perhaps the market for quinoa is saturated. The people who know about quinoa and can afford to buy it are doing so.

Or maybe other ancient grains—the trendier, lesser-known varieties, the Brooklynites to quinoa's Manhattan—are gaining traction. Two years ago, I'd never heard of farro, or freekeh, kamut, sorghum, millet, or teff. I still haven't tasted einkorn or amaranth. Are any of these poised to be the next big thing quinoa? And when can I expect to be sick of that, too?

For now, I'm happy with farro. And wheatberries. Hey, I still like couscous (even if it is just pasta in disguise). But quinoa? I just need a little break.

If you need a little break too:

What's your go-to grain (or seed)? Tell us in the comments below.

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Melinda W. January 5, 2016
I still like quinoa, but I never prepared it more than once or twice a month, so I never got sick of it. But I wouldn't miss kale. Give me spinach, Swiss chard, collards or turnip greens. Yum! Kale is just meh.
Mary January 5, 2016
I'd really like to see more recipes for whole grains like wheat berries. Salads with cranberries and nuts and cooked grains get old fast. Ditto breakfast cereal with maple syrup and the ubiquitous dried fruit. We need more and better savory recipes!
chris January 5, 2016
Hah! I had lunch with friends, today, and we were discussing this exact question. Me, I've always preferred brown rice.
Smaug January 5, 2016
Which of the grains are not seeds?
Smaug January 6, 2016
Come on, just ONE.
amysarah January 5, 2016
I like quinoa well enough. But pretty amazing how we go into overdrive and make short work of something eaten for thousands of years! Though I doubt our attention span influences South American countries where quinoa is an actual staple...funny how poverty trumps fads! Frankly, quinoa's ubiquitous streak, like kale turning up in everything but chocolate cake, isn't all that different from, e.g., Beanie Baby mania. I think now it just settles into being a food (quinoa, not Beany Babies) and Whole Foods' culture moves on to the next obsession. (No couscous, don't go!)
ckachur May 23, 2016
Great, except Kale is in Chocolate Cake. (Although I would argue it is a brownie, not a cake.)
Lauren January 5, 2016
I hope other grains and seeds take over! I have celiac, and I am one of those lucky few who get sick from eating quinoa. Something about how the proteins are similar to gluten...yadda yadda yadda...So many restaurants have quinoa dishes as their gluten free option, so I can't wait for something else to take over.
Lindsay-Jean H. January 5, 2016
See ya quinoa! Take couscous with you! (Israel couscous, you can stay.)
laurenlocally January 6, 2016
+1 Israeli couscous.