Chipotle has been on a new menu item roll for the past few years — and now there’s something new that might get added to the mix soon: According to Business Insider, Chipotle is testing quinoa at its New York test kitchen, the Chipotle NEXT Kitchen. I’ll be honest: When I go to Chipotle, I’m not going for the grains; I'm going for the barbacoa. But I mean, hey — another meat-free protein offering is always welcome, right? And anyway, there’s nothing that says carnivores couldn’t opt to add one of the chain’s meat options to a quinoa bowl for an extra dose of protein. I like options. Options are good.
Quinoa is just one of many new items Chipotle has tested over the past few years, all with varying degrees of success. The tofu-based Sofritas became a nationwide menu offering in 2014, with chorizo following in 2016 and queso in 2017; however, Sofritas is the only item of those three that still remains on the menu in its original form. Chorizo was discontinued in the fall of 2017, and the queso was reformulated a few months later. Other test items, like nachos, haven’t made it to the full menu yet.
But the potential addition of quinoa to the menu is an exciting one, especially for vegetarian and vegan customers. According to Chipotle representative Chris Arnold, who spoke with Business Insider about the new menu item, Chipotle's take on the grain is “made with red and gold quinoa tossed with a little citrus juice, cumin, and freshly chopped cilantro.” (Alas, that means that if you are someone who has the genetic variation that makes cilantro taste like soap to you, you’ll probably want to skip Chipotle’s quinoa.) It’s recommended as an addition to a salad or as a substitute for rice in anything ranging from a burrito bowl to a straight-up burrito.
Although quinoa is among the many food items and ingredients that have become (and/or been labeled as) “trendy” in recent years, it’s got a long, long history — about 5,000 years’ worth, according to Smithsonian.com. Held sacred by the Incas, it’s called the “mother of all grains” for a number of reasons: It’s packed with vitamins minerals, and fiber; it’s a complete protein (a rarity for plant-based proteins); and it’s an extremely hearty crop, able to grow in the harshest of environments.
It’s also super versatile, working just as well in savory recipes as in sweet ones. Protein-packed weeknight meal? Quinoa’s got you covered. Slightly sweet but still nutritionally sound breakfast? Break out the quinoa. Unexpectedly good-for-you baked goods? Yep: Quinoa. The beauty of it is that, if prepared properly (don’t forget to rinse it before you cook it!), it tastes like pretty much whatever you cook it with. All you need to do is pop it in a pot with a ratio of one cup of quinoa to two cups of liquid, let it simmer until the liquid has been absorbed, and you’re good to go.
However, reactions to Chipotle’s test of the grain have been somewhat mixed.
Some Have Reacted With Simple Emoji…
A picture is worth a thousand words, right? These emoji seem pretty excited.
…Or Noted That Quinoa Could Actually Bring Them Back To The Fold:
The company has suffered some loss of business in recent years after some issues with foodborne illness emerged (the issues have since been resolved); however, things look like they’re on the upswing: After announcing last week that Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol would be taking over the reigns at Chipotle in March, the chain has added nearly $2 billion in value, according to Business Insider.
Others, However, Are Less Convinced About The New Item’s Ability To Boost Sales:
I’m not sure I agree with this assessment; given how successful Chipotle's model has been and how many others have followed in their footsteps, I think their process is fine. That’s just me, though.
But this person may have a point:
Is Chipotle too late to the quinoa party for it to make a difference? We’ll just have to wait and see.
And Some Are Just Skeptical In General:
Here’s An Interesting Observation:
You know, I’ve never really stopped to consider the similarities or differences between what makes something “hipster” versus “millennial”…but now, I will never be able to unsee it.
And These Folks Get Bonus Points For Basically Predicting The Future:
Both of these tweets hit the internet many days before news of Chipotle’s quinoa test did. Have their users developed the ability to see into the future? Probably not, but, I mean… it's just too perfect.
Whether quinoa makes it to the permanent Chipotle menu or not, however, the chain clearly isn’t done trying new things. Business Insider reported on a call between investors and current Chipotle CEO Steve Ells that hinted at more to come. Ells noted that, although changing up Chipotle’s menu is “tricky” due to the fact that the options are “linear” (as he put it, “It’s not like you can put a whole new thing up on the menu board. … Ingredients become part of the whole offering”), options like “salads with different kinds of grains” and other “traditional things” (think nachos and quesadillas) are still potentially on the table for a later point.
In the meantime, though, you can try out Chipotle’s quinoa for yourself at the Chipotle NEXT Kitchen in New York. Happy lunching!