I recently had the chance to guest write for the Rhythm Superfoods' blog. The topic was for me to choose, and as I thought about what I'd like to write, I kept coming back to the idea of a "superfood. "
We know that superfoods are, well, super, because of their next-level nutritional stats. But the protein content of Greek yogurt and the antioxidants in acai alone aren’t enough to catapult these health foods to mainstream fame. So how exactly did difficult to pronounce foods like quinoa and chia become trendy terms on every restaurant’s menu and everyone’s shopping lists?
Here’s the story of six superfoods’ rise to culinary celebrity! (You can read this over on Rhythm Superfoods' Blog as well, and check out their delectable snacks! They're one of the things I always have on hand for traveling!)
Kale is kalin’ it. “Kale Salad” is synonymous with healthy, delicious and trendy. But how did kale surpass spinach, chard and other nutritious leafy greens in popularityWhat started as a strange-looking garnish is now widely regarded for its high fiber, magnesium and folate contents.
In 1996, a poem dedicated to kale was published in the LA Times. After that, a slew of media “hits” by kale slowly introduced it to general public. This included a recipe by Martha Stewart, Whole Living dubbing it a “powerfood,” Gwyneth Paltrow making kale chips on Ellen, and in 2012 Bon Appetit named it “the year of kale.”
A fascinating article by Eve Turow of mindbodygreen traces kale’s rise in popularity to Oberon Sinclair - a PR professional who was dedicated to growing the green stuff’s reputation – going as far as creating the fake “American Kale Association.”
2.) Greek Yogurt
Just a few short years ago, Greek yogurt wasn’t exactly a highly-regarded dairy dish. Greek yogurt was seen as the chalky, chunky, thicker cousin of typical yogurt and people weren’t singing its praises.
But things started to change after Hamdi Ulukaya bought an abandoned yogurt factory in upstate New York and developed the recipe for Chobani – first introducing it to a small grocery store on Long Island in 2007.
Chobani quickly landed two national grocery store accounts (Stop & Shop and Shop Rite) and quickly captured the market. It’s thought that Greek yogurt first grew in popularity thanks to upper middle class women who thought that it was “purer” and “simpler” than regular yogurts – plus its exotic connection to Greece was appealing. Greek yogurt, the more expensive type of yogurt, was in some ways seen as a status symbol.
Now, Greek yogurts like Chobani and Fage are the Greek Gods of ‘Gurt – sales have skyrocketed as people point to its higher protein content and more filling nature.
According to The Atlantic, in 2006, Greek yogurt was a $60 million industry in the United States. By 2011, it had become a $1.5 billion business.
Maybe you, too, mispronounced quinoa for a good long while before figuring out this protein-packed grains true name.
Quinoa hits a trifecta of health benefits that has helped it become a mainstream whole-grain.
1. Quinoa is gluten free. For a few years now, sales of gluten free foods have been surging due to increased awareness about Celiac’s disease as well as the (widely debated) potential health benefits of a gluten-free diet.
2. Quinoa is a nutritionally dense “superfood.”
3. Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids.
Quinoa first started making its way into people’s vocabulary as far back as 1913 when The New York Times named it one of 400 “charming botanical strangers” that would be introduced to the US by the Department of Agriculture.
For a while, it remained hidden on health food store shelves. But in 2008, Oprah Winfrey ate quinoa as part of a 21-day cleanse. Around the same time, more mainstream stores like Costco, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods began to carry quinoa.
As quinoa imports began to rise, the United Nations decreed 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa.”
How did chia go from sprouting in ceramic-character-shaped-containers for children to being a health-food staple?
An interesting case study from American Marketing Association looks at how this super-seed went “from pets to protein powder.
Marketing played a large role in making the public aware of chia seeds’ many nutritional benefits. They’re full of fiber, protein, antioxidants, calcium, phosphorous, manganese and omega-3 fatty acids. Joseph Enterprises first made chia seeds popular as the hair in head-shaped planters. The Chia Pet launched over 35 years ago but now, Joseph Enterprises also sells raw chia seeds as a health supplement.
A huge boost to the visibility of chia was the publishing of the book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall in 2009. The book explains that chia seeds were used by Mayans and Aztecs as a snack that sustains energy.
The Chia Co. was the first brand to reach those consumers who were interested in chia, but didn’t purchase the raw seeds because they weren’t sure how to use them. They created the Chia Pod, a pre-packaged chia pudding. More pre-packaged chia products continue to hit the shelves, including Mamma Chia’s bottled beverages, bagged granolas, and pouched chia “squeezes.”
Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia is now a booming business in the US and now included on many mainstream menus and on grocery shelves in many prepackaged products– used in pudding, crackers, cookies, cereals and more.
Acai berries are vibrant little guys hailing from Brazil. The Global Healing Center lists 12 major health benefits of acai berries – among them, heart health, skin health, immune boosting, and improved mental function.
The “acai bowl” trend started in places like Hawaii and California, where acai berries were used as a smoothie-like base and topped with granola, fruit and other toppings to create highly-Instagrammable breakfasts.
But there’s more to the story if you do some digging. How did acai bowls get from Brazil to the US? According to an in-depth article by The New Yorker, it was all thanks to two brothers, Ryan and Jeremy Black and their friend, Edmund Nichols, who first experienced an acai bowl on a trip to Brazil and vowed to bring the trend to the States. They went on to become the founders of Sambazon – which now produces a variety of acai products.
It wasn’t easy to introduce a difficult-to-pronounce berry from the Amazon jungle into the food-vocabulary of always suspicious consumers – but after being featured in the best-seller “The Perricone Promise: Look Younger, Live Longer in Three Easy Steps” and a spot on Oprah, the Black brothers were in business and soon Sambazon was being featured in People magazine.
Who would have thought that beets – a bulbous root – would become so popular? But here we are, with beet references abounding in popular culture. Who remembers the cartoon Doug and the rock band, “The Beets” performing “Killer Tofu?” And who doesn’t know that Dwight Shrute from The Office is a beet farmer? A trendy tee shirt reads, “Beets Don’t Kale My Vibe.”
And according to an article from The Daily Meal, beets were the hippest food of 2016.
Low in calories, sodium and fat, beets are high in nutrients like folate, manganese and betaine.