What Is Quinoa?

Last Update: July 15, 2023

If you’re not friends with quinoa yet, you should be! Whether you’re transitioning to a plant-based diet, eating low FODMAP, or just trying to max the nutritional content of your next meal, quinoa will be right by your side. But there’s more to this high-protein grain that, well, isn’t really a grain at all. We’re getting up close and personal with America’s favorite superfood and celebrating the many reasons why we love cooking with quinoa.

What is quinoa?

Once referred to as “the mother grain” and considered a gift from the gods (according to the Incas roughly 5,000 years ago), quinoa has a long history despite its more recent popularity. Though it’s traditionally cooked as a grain, quinoa is actually the seed of the goosefoot plant (chenopodium quinoa), a botanical relative of spinach, beets, and chard.

Quinoa FAQ

Though quinoa continues acquire a fan club, it’s an often misunderstood food. We’re setting the record straight on this nutrient-dense powerhouse.

Where does quinoa come from?

The quinoa plant is native to the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, which currently stands as the primary exporter of the pantry staple as other countries try to keep up with demand. Collectively, Bolivia and Peru maintain seed banks with a whopping 1,800 types of quinoa (from red quinoa, to black quinoa, and more). However, quinoa’s rise as a U.S. health food favorite began in the 1980s, when two farmers cultivated it in Colorado. Still, it wasn’t until a few years ago, that quinoa hit meteoric status as a trending food.

How do you pronounce quinoa?

Don’t let the spelling throw you. Quinoa is typically pronounced “keen-wah,” although since it is a Spanish version of a Quechua word (kinua or kinúwa) it’s more properly pronounced “kee-no-wah.”

What does quinoa taste like?

On its own, some argue that quinoa is a bit bland and flavorless. But add a few spices into the mix, and it’ll take on a nutty-earthiness that absorbs just about any flavor you incorporate. In most cases, the texture of quinoa is similar to brown rice, but is slightly finer and a bit more cohesive like oatmeal. However, depending on how you choose to prepare it, quinoa can be fluffy, crunchy, or even creamy.

Is quinoa gluten free?

Since it’s not technically a grain but a seed, quinoa is in fact gluten-free. This is good news for anyone sticking to a gluten-free diet since quinoa can be swapped in for just about any cereal grain, including oats and barley.

Is quinoa good for you?

What are the health benefits of quinoa? Let’s take a look at the nutrition facts. With roughly 8g of protein per cup, up to 27g of fiber per cup, little fat, key vitamins and minerals like iron and manganese, quinoa is pretty darn close to being nutritionally perfect. It is also a complete protein, comprising all nine essential amino acids.

How to cook quinoa

From heating on the stove or rice cooker to incorporating quinoa flour into baked goods or puffed quinoa into breakfast recipes and snacks, one thing’s certain: Quinoa is incredibly versatile. If you’re a quinoa cooking novice, here are a few pro tips for getting started.

Why wash quinoa?

Before starting any recipe, you must wash your quinoa. Why? Quinoa contains saponin, a soapy, naturally occurring chemical that coats quinoa seeds. While saponin discourages birds from noshing on the seeds, it can also cause painful stomach aches and digestive discomfort when not rinsed away during meal prep. The best way to remove saponin is to rinse your quinoa in a fine mesh sleeve before cooking.

  • Quinoa in a rice cooker: Like many grains, quinoa does well in a rice cooker. Just add 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water, cook for about 15 minutes, and you’re good to go. This technique works especially well for large batches of quinoa to enjoy for the week.
  • Quinoa on the stove: Like the rice cooker method, cooking quinoa on the stove also requires the 1:2 ratio. Bring the saucepan to a vigorous boil and then let simmer until the quinoa has absorbed the water and is pleasantly tender.
  • Quinoa in the microwave: If you’re in need of a fast solution and a 1-2 servings portion of quinoa, the microwave is a good solution. After rinsing your quinoa, use the 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Cook for 6 minutes, stir, then cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Quinoa recipes

Ready to get cooking with this nutrient-dense superfood? Here are the best quinoa recipes.

Quinoa Granola

Here’s a gluten-free recipe that packs some crunch! This quinoa breakfast granola incorporates uncooked sprouted quinoa for that ideal crispy texture along with rolled oats and maple syrup.

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Quinoa Pancakes

Ready to slay brunch? Your friends will flip for these gluten-free pancakes, made with quinoa flour, pumpkin purée and coconut oil.

Quinoa Crunch Bars

Move over, crispy rice crunch bars! Puffed quinoa is the perfect healthier alternative when paired with decadent dark chocolate and creamy white chocolate.

Quinoa Porridge

We have a feeling Goldilocks would be all over this superfuel porridge, made with quinoa, almond milk, and ghee and topped with Greek yogurt, almond butter, and raspberry jam.

Quinoa Breakfast Bars

These no-bake, chewy quinoa bars are packed with superfood nutrients for a morning boost, including almonds, shredded coconut, dried cranberries, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

This variation on a traditional tabbouleh swaps out bulgur wheat for quinoa then ups the flavor quotient with premium olive oil, juicy cherry tomatoes, salty feta, and tons of fresh herbs.

Tri-Colored Quinoa Salad

This simple but satisfying salad is the perfect combo of fresh ingredients, textures, and heartiness (plus, it’s easy on the eyes). Tri-colored quinoa is tossed with dried fruit, sliced almonds, fresh herbs, and crunchy ribbons of zucchini and topped with an exotic dressing of lemon juice, cinnamon, cumin, and chili flakes.

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