The Quinoa Index

Quinoa invaded our lives about two years ago. The little grains suddenly starred in cuisine magazines and restaurants. Long articles studded with the phrase "amino acids" were written about its healthy qualities. Riding the trend of healthier foods, it wormed its way into our kitchens and is gradually becoming a staple alongside rice, noodles, instant couscous and potatoes.

A month ago, quinoa became official. Sugat, a company that specializes in dry goods such as grains and legumes, has begun to market the stuff in 500-gram bags.  Overnight quinoa morphed from a curiosity at health-food stores, marketed by the likes of Harduf and Adama, into a commodity like rice or lentils.

Quinoa's conquest of the Sugat consensus shows how entrenched health foods have become. For years everybody has been talking about it, but only in the last year have major Israeli food companies officially gone to war against trans-fats and other abominations.

Healthy is no longer a matter of choice. The days are over when a friendly bacteria in a yogurt would spearhead a campaign, or calcium fortification in milk, to make our bones stronger and our lives happier. By now we demand extra calcium in our cottage cheese and in fact you can't find any without it. Food companies themselves aim to bring us healthier foods, and sometimes provide it before we want it.

None are doing so out of a sense of public service. Health matters to marketers only as long as it sells. The investment in creating a healthier product is high and from the marketing perspective, the companies have a problem: they are essentially admitting that for years, they sold an inferior product, that lacked all these wonderful healthy qualities.

Osem has declared war on fat in mayonnaise (and, some say, on the taste of it as well). It recently launched a line of soup flavoring cubes that are made of wholly natural materials. No monosodium glutamate, no food coloring, no preservatives. It invested a million dollars in developing the cubes and then there was the cost of marketing. A pretty billboard features the soup box, bursting with the vegetable fat of the land. It looks tasty and healthy.

But one has to wonder. Osem, which declares it will stamp out trans-fatty acid use by year-end, didn't revamp all its soups. So does that mean the others contain things we shouldn't eat? And what about the past - why did you sell us unhealthy foods?

The Central Bottling Company (Coca Cola Israel) also decided to boost our health. The local company extracted preservatives from diet cola, but it didn't tell us all about it. Maybe they realize that until now, nobody even realized the soda had preservatives in it. It is true that nobody thinks of Coca Cola as a health drink, but at the same time, the maker didn't want to position itself as being actually harmful.