From breakfast bowls to salads to a slew of packaged snacks, our love for quinoa can't stop, won't stop. The so-called superfood ancient grain known for being a good source of plant-based protein has become such a staple in Americans' diets that we're shocked if we meet someone who still mispronounces it.
And now there's more proof that quinoa's star status isn't fading: You can buy quinoa-based beer, whiskey, and vodka.
While some companies' quinoa-based products predate 2010, this niche market is largely influenced by the grain's rise to mainstream celeb status in recent years.
"We saw a lot of ancient grains being discovered and new grains being tried for other foods that were coming out of the health food enthusiasts, the sustainability movement, or locavores," says Darek Bell, owner/distiller of Corsair Distillery, which produces a quinoa whiskey. "We like to try new things, so we experimented with a lot of grains that, to our knowledge, had never been distilled. We kept coming back to the quinoa, as it was very unique." The flavor and mouthfeel are different from any other grains they've used, Bell explains. (You'll have to try it yourself to taste the difference, he says!)
Another reason for the trend is the gluten-free craze.
"Many gluten-free beers today miss on taste, and we want to offer consumers a viable option," says Jack Bays, president of Bay Pac Beverages, the producer of Aqotango ales, which are brewed with quinoa. "We see Aqotango ales as a new craft beer segment and a unique opportunity for gluten-sensitive consumers to enjoy a real ale without compromising on taste."
The alcohols are made like others, with a few extra steps that need to take place. At Corsair, they wash the quinoa to remove the bitter saponins covering the seeds, then cook it. "We then add malted barley, which breaks down starches to sugar, and add yeast that converts sugar to alcohol," Bell explains. "We distill it in our stills to make the high-proof alcohol, then put it in a barrel to age."