All About Quinoa: Tips, Nutrition, And More

We love quinoa for its nutty, earthy flavor and fluffy, slightly crunchy, somewhat chewy texture.

Quinoa Stuffing

Quinoa Stuffing | Photo by Allrecipes

Of course, we also love quinoa because it’s so quick and easy to cook; and once it’s cooked, it’s so versatile: Turn it into side dishes and salads, soups, pilafs, stews, grain bowls, or cakes. Okay, yes, we’re smitten!

So what is quinoa? It’s a seed, not a grain. You cook it like a grain, though, and “grain” is typically how folks refer to it. Quinoa (say KEEN-wah) is kind of like buckwheat, sort of like amaranth, which it’s related to. Quinoa is also closely related to spinach, chard, beets…and, uh, the tumbleweed.


Roll on, Relative of Quinoa

Quinoa may be new to your local market. But it’s been cultivated for at least 5,000 years, first in the basin of Lake Titicaca in the Andes Mountains. Quinoa was sacred to the Incas, who called it the “mother of all grains.” It’s one of the original crops of the Americas. In fact, very likely it was eaten well before domestication, by herders taking advantage of wild stands of quinoa.

Near Lake Titicaca, Birthplace of Quinoa

Quinoa, Near Lake Titicaca | Photo by Michael Hermann, via Wikimedia Commons

How Healthy Is Quinoa?

Nutritionally, this little seed is a big deal. Quinoa is a healthy, highly nutritious whole grain, a “wonder food,” or “superfood” if you prefer. Quinoa earns such high praise because it’s a complete protein, (or “whole protein,” which means quinoa includes all nine essential amino acids). It boasts more protein than brown rice, barley, millet, or potatoes. But quality protein isn’t quinoa’s only claim to nutritional fame; it’s also a good source of fiber, as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, and potassium; it’s a rich source of iron, phosphorous, magnesium, and zinc; and it brings some calcium, too. Quinoa can also brag about what it does not have. Quinoa is gluten-free. It stands in deliciously for pasta and white rice.

Plus, according to a recent study, eating quinoa every day could significantly lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and respiratory illness.

Let’s look at the quinoa basics. First, which quinoa should you buy?

Types of Quinoa

There are many, many varieties of quinoa, and lots of colors. But what you’ll typically find in the markets are white, red, and occasionally black varieties.

Rainbow of Quinoa

Quinoa Rainbow | Photo by Meredith

White Quinoa

White quinoa cooks up fluffy and has a nice neutral essence and mild, nutty flavor. It’s often the easiest quinoa to find.

White Quinoa in Spoon

White Quinoa | Photo by Meredith

Red Quinoa

You’ll get an earthy flavor from red quinoa and chewier texture. Red quinoa will also add a little burst of color to dishes.

Red Quinoa in Spoon

Red Quinoa | Photo by Meredith

Black Quinoa

This is perhaps the more exotic of the three. It can have a crunchier texture than white. As with red quinoa, black quinoa is maybe a little bolder, earthier than white. And it may take a few minutes longer to cook.

How To Store Your Quinoa

Dry quinoa has a nice long shelf life. Store uncooked quinoa in an air-tight container in your pantry. It stays fresh for months. You can also refrigerate dry quinoa or freeze it; and it will stay fresh even longer. Store cooked quinoa in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for a month.

But no matter which type of quinoa you choose, you can cook it the same way.

How to Cook Quinoa

Quinoa doubles down on its wonder-food status by also being quick cooking and wildly versatile. You cook it essentially like rice, only it’s more forgiving. Honestly, it’s tough to mess up quinoa.

But before cooking, give your quinoa a quick rinse in a mesh strainer. You want to wash away a bitter, soapy-flavored coating that naturally forms on quinoa. It’s called saponin, and it’s easy to rinse away. Incidentally, the saponin helps quinoa thrive at high altitudes — the coating protects it against the strong rays of the sun and the bitter flavor keeps the birds away.

Quinoa Quick Cooking Stats

  • You’ll Need: Strainer + saucepan + quinoa + salt.
  • 1 cup of dry quinoa produces 3 cups of fluffy cooked quinoa.
  • To cook 1 cup of dry quinoa, add 2 cups of water or broth and ¼ teaspoon of salt.
  • Bring it to boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • You can also cook quinoa in a rice cooker. Use the same ratio of quinoa to liquid.

Quinoa Recipes

Pro Tip: Make a big batch of quinoa on the weekend, and you’ll have a terrific base for a week’s worth of tantalizing meals. This is an often overlooked benefit of quinoa: unlike some grains that get sticky and mushy after cooking and refrigerating, quinoa stays its plump, fluffy self with the same slightly chewy texture, even after time in the fridge.

Quinoa Side Dishes

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Photo by KGora

Pineapple Fried Quinoa

Pineapple Fried Quinoa

Photo by Coralie

Related: See the Complete Collection of Quinoa Side Dish Recipes


Quinoa Salads

Tex-Mex Quinoa Salad

Tex-Mex Quinoa Salad

Photo by CookinBug

Mexican Chicken Quinoa Salad

Mexican Chicken Quinoa Salad

Photo by Sherri

Related: See the Complete Collection of Quinoa Salad Recipes


Quinoa Main Dishes

Quinoa Black Bean Burgers

Quinoa Black Bean Burgers

Photo by Allrecipes

Turkey and Quinoa Meatloaf

Quinoa for Longer Life - Turkey and Quinoa Meatloaf_213211_ Photo by CCloves2bake

Photo by CCloves2bake

Quinoa Desserts

Banana Quinoa Rice Pudding

Banana Quinoa Rice Pudding

Photo by lutzflcat

Blueberry Quinoa with Lemon Glaze

Blueberry Quinoa with Lemon Glaze

Photo by lutzflcat

Quinoa Breakfast

Avocado Breakfast Bowl

Avocado Breakfast Bowl

Photo by Linda T

Quinoa Appetizers

Jan’s Brown Rice and Quinoa Cheesy Rice Balls

Jens Brown Rice and Quinoa Cheesy Rice Balls

Photo by Deb C

Related: See the Complete Collection of Quinoa Recipes


Some Quick Quinoa Variations

When You Want Your Quinoa…
With Chicken
Quinoa Pilaf with Shredded Chicken | Cold Chicken Quinoa Avocado Salad

With Black Beans
Quinoa and Black Beans

Pork Fried Quinoa | Carrot, Tomato, and Spinach Quinoa Pilaf with Ground Turkey

Heartier But Vegetarian:
Protein-Packed Spicy Vegan Quinoa with Edamame | Quinoa and Black Beans

Quinoa with Salmon and Swiss Chard | Avocado, Pomegranate, and Quinoa Salad

Add toasted pine nuts or almonds before you fluff. (See Quinoa Almond Pilaf.)

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