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.
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.
MR LIM HER-YI, owner of Bud Of Joy Organic Bakery and Store
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."
• Follow Eunice Quek on Twitter @STEuniceQ
HOW TO COOK QUINOA
Soak the quinoa overnight to remove its phytic acid, which prevents the nutrients in the quinoa from being absorbed by the body. Then rinse the grains to remove the natural coating of saponin - which can make it taste bitter or soapy.
Place 1 cup of rinsed and drained quinoa with 1.5 cups of water or stock in a pot. Add salt to taste and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed. Do not overcook or it will become mushy.
Remove lid and fluff quinoa with a fork before serving.
HOW TO JAZZ UP QUINOA
• After the cooked quinoa has cooled, simply toss it with extra-virgin olive oil to be eaten with salad. It can also be eaten with stews and used in place of rice in a meal.
• Crisp it up by frying cooked quinoa with vegetables and meat.
• Give it more flavour by cooking it with garlic and onions, as well as other spices such as cumin, paprika, za'atar and lemon zest.
• Add cooked quinoa to muffin batter before baking, or add to granola and yogurt for a wholesome breakfast.
Other hip grains and seeds
Amaranth is a nutritious, gluten-free seed from the amaranth plant. It was the staple food of the Aztecs and is high in protein. The plant's leaves are also edible.
This grain dates back to ancient Rome and there are different kinds - wholegrain, pearled and semi-pearled. It has a nutty flavour and a pleasant chewy texture. Farro also refers to different types of wheat such as einkorn and emmer.
Khorasan wheat - commercially known as kamut - gets its name from the province in north-eastern Iran. The wheat is grown in Europe to make bread and used in Khorasan as food for camels.
It can be used for baking or milled into flour. It is a rich source of protein and has a nutty flavour.
Crop grown for its small, gluten-free seeds. There are many varieties and the more common ones include pearl millet, finger millet and foxtail millet. It can be used to make flour for breads, and millet porridge is considered a traditional food in Russian, German, and Chineseсcuisines. Also used as bird and animal feed.
Also known as hulled wheat, spelt was a staple in Europe cultivated since 5,000BC. Now, it is a popular ingredient for making pasta, bread and cereal. It is rich in protein and dietary fibre and low in fat.
A species of lovegrass native to Ethiopia and Eritrea. Teff is high in protein, dietary fibre and calcium, and is a key ingredient for making injera, a flatbread with a spongy texture. It is a fine grain about the size of a poppy seed.
Get your grains
What: Modern Chinese restaurant Xin Divine has an interesting take on millet with its Chinese Polenta ($8).
The homespun Sichuan dish uses nutritious millet and grits in place of rice and the grains are cooked with steamed pumpkin in chicken stock.
The sweet and savoury porridge also includes dehydrated pieces of youtiao (dough fritter), a shelled crab claw, huai shan (Chinese yam) and truffle foam.
Where: 10 Duxton Hill; open: noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
What: Known for its soba and brown rice bowls, Wheat also offers a dish of quinoa with chicken ($12), which comes with grilled chicken thigh, pumpkin, mesclun salad, corn, tomatoes and cranberries. Quinoa, as well as Bhutanese red rice, is also offered as a topping choice for the Design Your Own Bowl option at its newest outlet at Marina One. Bhutanese red rice is a gluten-free grain and replaces the brand's usual brown rice option.
Where: All Wheat outlets including B2-33 Marina One, The Heart, 5 Straits View; B1-08 Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Road; and B1-32 One Raffles Place; various opening hours
What: The new Verde Kitchen at Hilton Singapore offers a variety of locally sourced and sustainable ingredients, as well as gluten-free and vegetarian options. For your grain fix, opt for the Super Food Organic Spinach & Quinoa ($25) with green apple, pumpkin seeds, pomegranate and extra virgin olive oil; or the organic amaranth and rice pasta ($28), with local tomatoes and mushrooms, sweet basil and parmesan.
Where: Level 2 Hilton Singapore, 581 Orchard Road; open: 10.30am to 5.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
What: Quinoa is used in two ways - blanched and lightly seasoned, or dehydrated and fried - at Peruvian restaurant Tono Cevicheria. The popular Causa Lima ($22) is a Peruvian potato salad with aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli pepper), crabmeat, tartar sauce, tobiko, avocado puree and red quinoa. Other options include Yellow Pituco ($24), with yellow tuna, chilli vinaigrette, crispy quinoa and plantain chips; and Huatia ($32), with roast pork, mint and coriander sauce served with beans and crispy quinoa.
Its new menu will feature a seed called kiwicha or amaranth, which comes from The Andes. It will be used as a garnish for dessert.
Where: 01-49/50 Duo Galleria, 7 Fraser Street; open: noon to 2.30pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), 6 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays), 6 to 11pm (Fridays and Saturdays), closed on Mondays
What: The Make Your Own Healthy Bento menu has many quinoa-based options, including The Bento People's signature Quinoa "Fried Rice" with sous vide chicken, eggs and beans; Quinoa Lemak, white quinoa with cold-pressed coconut oil; and steamed quinoa with a choice of white, red, black or tri-colour. Prices start at $10.90.
Where: 02-17 CT Hub, 2 Kallang Avenue; open: 11.30am to 3pm (Mondays to Saturdays), 5.30 to 8.30pm (weekday dinner), closed on Sundays and public holidays
What: RVLT wine bar used to have a burnt cabbage with barley dish and now it has another grain-based dish on the menu - kohlrabi, crab, quinoa and tamarind ($21). Its chef-partner Manel Valero is also working on a chocolate terrine dessert with sea salt and buckwheat.
Where: 38 Carpenter Street; open: 5.30pm to midnight (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
What: Rang Mahal's quinoa upma is cooked with olive oil and spices such as asafoetida (from the dried sap of giant fennel), curry leaves, fresh ginger and mustard seeds. The fine-dining Indian restaurant also uses ragi (finger millet) to make dosa at its live-cooking station. Both items are available for Rang Mahal's lunch buffet ($58++ a person, Sundays to Fridays).
Where: Level 3 Pan Pacific Singapore, 7 Raffles Boulevard
What: Selected restaurants under The Prive Group offer the Awesome Superfood Bowl ($16), which includes quinoa, kale, broccoli, goji berries and cherry tomatoes; as well as Mediterranean Salad ($16), which includes chickpeas, puffed buckwheat, roasted zucchinis, Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes and blueberries. An upcoming addition to the menu is Mexican Taco Quinoa Salad, with quinoa, butternut squash, black beans, Hokkaido corn, red peppers and smashed avocado.
Where: Most Prive outlets including Keppel Bay, 2 Keppel Bay Vista; 01-02 Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place; and 01-33 Chijmes, 30 Victoria Street; various opening hours
What: It may still be a long way to this year's Dragon Boat Festival on June 18, but Tangerine at Resorts World Sentosa is already planning to bring back its rice dumpling, which includes quinoa, lotus seeds and konbu. It will be available in its 5-in-1 Dumpling Festival Package of gourmet rice dumplings presented in a three-tiered bamboo steamer. The package also includes dumplings from Resorts World Sentosa's other restaurants, such as Feng Shui Inn and Forest. Pre-orders start from May 1 till June 15.
What: Italian restaurant Aura's salad bar ($21.80++ a person for weekday lunch, 11.30am to 2pm) features grains and seeds such as amaranth, couscous, quinoa, farro, spelt and barley in offerings such as quinoa salad with Japanese cucumber and tomberries; farro with roasted peppers and caramelised onions; amaranth couscous with confit tomatoes, parsley, raisins and pine nuts; and spelt salad with fava beans, lentils and candied orange.
Where: Aura Sky Lounge, 06-02 National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road
What: The next time you pick a base for your grain bowl at Grain Traders, opt for quinoa instead of the usual soba noodles or brown rice. Pearl barley and bulgur wheat are available too. All grains are dressed in extra-virgin olive oil. Its new signature bowls ($16) - Hen's Nest and Senor Hombro - both feature quinoa along with other proteins and vegetables.
Where: Outlets at CapitaGreen, 138 Market Street; and 01-03/04 100AM, 100 Tras Street; open: 8am to 8pm (weekdays), 11am to 8pm (weekends at 100AM outlet only)
What: Start your day with supergrain bowls from SPRMRKT Daily. The restaurant offers Aburi Salmon Bowl ($20+), with quinoa, torched salmon cubes, sliced avocado, cherry tomatoes, and sous vide egg; and a Veggie Bowl ($19+), with quinoa, grilled zucchini, roasted eggplant, charred vine-ripened tomatoes, hard-boiled egg and savoury sesame dressing.
What: A mainstay for online restaurant Grain is its Tofu-Powered Tabbouleh ($9.50), with aubergine, roasted pumpkin and bulgur - a whole wheat grain. An upcoming dish from March 12 to 26 is Jamaican Jerk Chicken And Freekeh ($13.95), with tikka masala sauce. Freekeh is a whole grain made from green durum wheat.
Info: Order online at www.grain.com.sg or via the Grain app on both iOS and Android. Meal-box orders are available on weekdays and catering is also available for large groups and events daily.
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.