We've seen lots of unique innovations around sushi in recent years. The sushi burrito and sushi donut come to mind as hypeworthy examples, but those just changed the shape of a product that stayed the same. The newest invention around this beloved Japanese food, sushi quinoa, swaps out the rice for a healthier grain that can stick just as well as the original.
I was skeptical that quinoa could be sticky at first, because on its own, the ancient grain crumbles at the slightest prick with a fork. However, Top Tier Foods has developed a Canadian Golden Quinoa that they claim works just as well as the sticky, short rice grains in sushi. Quinoa comes with a host of health benefits compared to white rice, including higher amounts of protein, iron, and other micronutrients. Thus, replacing the traditional rice with this small, pearly cereal might sound a little outlandish to traditionalists. For the health-conscious, though, it could be a huge plus.
To see if the product lived up to the hype, I decided to conduct a little experiment, and made my own nigiri utilizing tamago (Japanese steamed egg) and Top Tier's Quinoa.
I treated the quinoa the same way traditional sushi rice is made: boiled and steamed in water, then tossed in a balanced mixture of vinegar, sugar, and salt. After letting it cool, I found that the grains of quinoa mashed together slightly and stuck, but still had the toothsome texture associated with it. In terms of forming into mounds of rice for the nigiri, I felt that the quinoa didn't go to mush and held its original form, but still came together in one coherent mass. There were some cracks and blemishes to the quinoa mound, however.
In terms of flavor, quinoa and rice are both pretty bland on their own. Quinoa does have some nutty and sulfurous notes, though, and the vinegar mixture does an okay job of masking them. Thus, the taste is a little different from traditional rice, but on functionality, Top Tier's sushi quinoa does a pretty good job.
Of course, this is less credible coming from an amateur home cook than it is from, say, a sushi chef.
To shed some authority on the new product, Top Tier has been working with Hidekazu Tojo, a sushi chef master and inventor of the California roll, to ensure that their grains are up to standard. You can see how Tojo feels about quinoa compared to rice in the video above.
To me, this quinoa isn't a perfect replacement to rice in terms of flavor, texture, and stickiness. However, for those looking to make sushi with a healthier grain, this is a functional and tasty alternative that can actually hold its form.
Sushi Quinoa is currently available for sale on Amazon, and Top Tier plans to launch retail packages of it sometime this spring.
Photos by Peter Pham.