Learn how to cook quinoa to fluffy perfection with a few simple steps. Use this protein-packed nutritional powerhouse in a wide variety of recipes.
Where did quinoa come from? In the past decade, quinoa (commonly pronounced “keen wah”) caused a buzz in the health and culinary world. You know what I mean.
Fitness gurus emphasize quinoa’s protein punch, nutritionists proclaim its health benefits, and celebrity chefs demonstrate how tasty it is.
In addition, NASA scientists experiment with quinoa for long space flights and the United Nations highlight its potential to alleviate global hunger.
It has many champions and for good reason. I recommend eating it on a regular basis, which is why learning how to cook quinoa is important.
After you have cooked your first batch of quinoa, you can use it in both sweet and savory dishes.
It makes a tasty breakfast protein bowl, a healthy salad lunch, and a delicious casserole dinner.
One of my favorite quinoa recipes is Southwest Chipotle Kale Quinoa Bowl. Check it out. It only takes 30 minutes to make.
How Does Quinoa Taste?
Quinoa tastes like a mild and slightly nutty grain with more chew than you would expect for such tiny seeds.
Yes, quinoa is a seed, not a grain. More accurately, it is a pseudocereal or pseudograin because it is derived from a seed plant. In contrast, wheat and oats come from grasses.
The quinoa seed has a bitter coating containing saponins. If your quinoa ever tasted bitter, the saponin coating was still there.
Most of the commercial producers selling in the United States pre-wash quinoa to remove this coating. Your quinoa package should be labeled pre-washed if it was processed.
However, if you taste bitterness, remove the saponins and bitterness yourself.
It is easy to do. Simply rinse the quinoa with water until the water runs clear.
Then cook, sprout, or grind the quinoa into flour.
Quinoa cooks by absorption. This means that the seed absorbs the water as it cooks and becomes fluffy.
The instructions for how to cook quinoa are at the end of the post. But first, let me tell you the interesting history.
The History of Quinoa
Ancient South Americans grew quinoa over 5,000 years ago. Although originally fed to livestock, the Incan people cultivated it for human consumption about 3,000 years ago.
It originated in the Andes Mountains regions in Peru and Bolivia, and most of the agriculture production is still there.
The ancient Incan people of South America believed quinoa was sacred. It was an important food source and was sustainable. They referred to it reverently as “The Mother Grain”.
Alexander Von Humboldt (a Latin American geographer) said that quinoa was to the Incan people what “wine was to the Greeks, wheat to the Romans, cotton to the Arabs”.
So, how did an ancient grain become so popular in the United States?
Quinoa’s Rise in Popularity
In 1993, NASA commissioned a study on the use of quinoa as a suitable food for long-term space missions. Scientists selected it as an experimental crop for NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System.
NASA liked quinoa because it had high protein, contained all the essential amino acids, was versatile and easy to use, and it was promising when grown hydroponically in a greenhouse.
NASA got the world’s attention.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization called quinoa a “super crop” because of its nutritional value, its storage ability, and its potential to resolve food shortages and global hunger.
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa, hoping to draw attention to all of quinoa’s benefits.
The attention worked. Quinoa has become so popular in the United States in the last 10 years that it has tripled in price since 2006 because of the high demand.
In fact, quinoa typically costs 3 times more than rice and 9 times more than wheat.
What Makes Quinoa Great?
Nearly everyone enthusiastically recommends quinoa. Here are some of the best characteristics of cooked quinoa:
- A cup of quinoa contains as much protein as a cup of milk.
- Quinoa is a complete protein. As a complete protein, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids (including lysine, rarely found in plants). These essential amino acids are critical for tissue growth and repair.
- Rich in B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, and folate) and vitamin E.
- Quinoa contains calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, and zinc.
- Rich in dietary fiber
- Gluten free
- Low glycemic index food
- Complex carbohydrate
The Most Important Things to Consider When Cooking Quinoa
Many elements influence the quality of cooked quinoa. Factors ranging from type of pan used to the amount of water added can impact the end result.
Listed below are some of the most crucial components that determine the outcome of your cooked quinoa.
- Has your quinoa been pre-washed? Most commercial quinoa producers pre-wash quinoa to remove the bitter saponins. However, if your quinoa has not been pre-washed, rinse it under running water until the water runs clear.
- What type of pan are you using? The type of pan you use makes a difference in the finished pot of quinoa. I find that high quality pans that conduct heat will work significantly better than cheap pans found in discount stores. Less sticking, clumping, and mushiness occur when using a high quality pan.
It addition, wide shallow pans (such as frying pans) cook the quinoa the most evenly. Try this type of pan for your next quinoa batch. Make sure the pan has a lid.
- Did you toast the quinoa? I prefer toasted quinoa. It adds a bit more of an interesting nutty flavor. Toasting the quinoa also gets rid of any bitterness that may have been left behind by some lingering saponins.
- How much water did you add? If you rinse the quinoa before you cook it, there will be extra moisture in the seeds. As a result, you should add less water.
The standard ratio of water to quinoa is 2 cups water to 1 cup quinoa. However, if you rinse the quinoa, add 1 ¾ cup of water for best results to compensate for the added moisture in the grains.
- Did you let the quinoa rest covered and off heat after it finished cooking? Resting the quinoa off heat is essential to making the best quinoa. Rest the quinoa, off heat, covered for 5 to 10 minutes. Residual cooking results when the trapped steam finishes cooking the quinoa more evenly.
How to Cook Quinoa
I like my quinoa grains nutty, fluffy, yet distinct with a little chew to them. To achieve this taste and texture, follow these steps.
- TOAST the quinoa in wide and shallow pan, like a frying pan. Make sure the pan has a lid.
- ADD water to the pan after the quinoa is toasted.
- BRING the water to a boil.
- After the water starts boiling, COVERthe pan with the lid and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed.
- REST the pan off the heat for 5 minutes to allow the quinoa to finish steam cooking evenly.
- FLUFFwith a fork.
- SERVE warm or cold.
Frequently Asked Questions About Quinoa
In the United States, Quinoa is commonly pronounced “keen wah”.
Make quinoa taste good by toasting it, cooking it in broth, and adding herbs, spices, or other flavorings. If it is bitter, then rinse the quinoa before you cook it.
• The best way to make quinoa taste good is to cook it with vegetable or chicken broth instead of water.
• After it is cooked, add other flavorings, such as herbs, spices, or oils. Finish it off with salt to taste.
• If the quinoa tastes bitter, you should rinse it before cooking. Most quinoa packages sold in the United States have been pre-rinsed to remove the bitter tasting saponins. However, if you buy quinoa that has not been pre-rinsed, you must rinse it yourself before you cook it.
• Add sweet or savory toppings. Cranberries, raisins, apples, and dried apricots are excellent sweet toppings. Tomatoes, red onions, chickpeas, and cucumbers are great savory toppings.
To cook 2 cups of quinoa, toast it first. Then use 2 cups of water or other liquid and 1 cup of quinoa. Simmer it for 15 to 20 minutes and let it sit off heat covered for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.
One cup of dry quinoa will yield 2 cups of cooked quinoa.
Quinoa seeds naturally have saponins in their coating. Saponins taste bitter and as a result deter birds from snacking on them.
Typically quinoa is eaten cooked or ground into flour before being cooked or baked. However, you can also sprout quinoa and eat it raw.
Yes, you need to refrigerate cooked quinoa, just as you would cooked rice.
After quinoa is cooked, it will last in the fridge up to a week. After the quinoa is cooked, allow it to cool completely. Place the cooled quinoa in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator.
Yes, it is ok to reheat quinoa. There are several ways to reheat quinoa.
• Reheat quinoa in a wide, shallow pan (like a frying pan) over medium low heat with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water for every cup of quinoa.
• Microwave quinoa covered for 30 to 90 seconds, depending on the amount being reheated.
- 1 cup dry quinoa
- 2 cups water or broth (chicken or vegetable are the best)
- HEAT skillet or other wide, shallow pan over medium heat.
- ADD quinoa to hot, dry pan.
- TOAST the quinoa for 5 to 7 minutes over medium low heat.
- STIR occasionally until the quinoa smells nutty and begins to pop and crackle.
- POUR the water or broth into the pan after the quinoa is toasted.
- BRING the liquid to a boil.
- COVER the pan with the lid after it begins to boil.
- COOK for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the liquid is all absorbed.
- REST the pan off the heat with the lid on for 5 minutes to allow the quinoa to finish steam cooking evenly.
- FLUFF quinoa with a fork.
- SERVE warm or cold alone as a side dish or mixed in a salad or casserole.
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Serving Size½ cup
Amount Per Serving Calories 189Total Fat 3gSaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 3gCholesterol 2mgSodium 104mgCarbohydrates 32gFiber 4gSugar 2gProtein 8g
Nutrition information is an estimate only and may vary based on individual ingredients added and cooking methods used.
I like quinoa plain with hummus, in salads, or mixed in casseroles.
What is your favorite way to eat quinoa? Comment below and let me know.