What is Quinoa? The Health Benefits and Recipes


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Pronounced “keen-wah,” this protein-packed grain contains every amino acid and is a great source of lysine, which promotes healthy tissue growth throughout the body. Quinoa also contains iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, and fiber. However, this Ancient Grain isn’t a grain at all.

Uncooked quinoa seeds in a wooden bowl

The world’s latest favorite grain isn’t actually a grain: quinoa is a seed! Chenopodium quinoa is officially classified as a pseudocereal. I love quinoa for its ease and versatility: it’s ready in a snap and has virtually limitless applications.

In particular, it’s an ideal stand-in for wherever there would previously be another type of grain. Salads, pilafs, scrambles, casseroles, risottos, soups and pasta dishes are all fair game for this noble seed.

Originally from the Andes mountain range in South America, quinoa was called the “gold of the Incas.” It has a nutty, grain-like flavor and an absorbent texture, which gives it its versatility as something that can be used as a grain stand-in.

Raw uncooked quinoa seeds in a small wooden bowl

Nutritional Benefits of Quinoa

Quinoa is a superfood! This seed packs a protein punch at 14 to 15% by weight of the dry seeds. What makes it special is that it contains the essential amino acid lysine, which is not found in other cereal grains like wheat or rice. This means quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. This is great for those on all-plant diets as a good quality protein source. It’s also gluten-free, cholesterol-free, kosher and mostly organic.

Clocking in at only 2% fat, the composition is made up of 90% mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, a majority from the healthy essential omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acid linolenic acid with benefits like heart and brain health. Quinoa is high in calcium, all the B vitamins especially riboflavin, and a good source of iron. Calorically, it’s about 222 calories per cup, putting it in the range of brown rice.

How Does Quinoa Taste?

Incredibly, there are about 120 varieties of quinoa, but most of what you’re likely to cook with is white (golden), red or black. Overall, they are largely the same, cooked in the same manner and taste similar (nutty, earthy with a hint of bitterness), but there are some subtle differences.

  • White quinoa is the mildest and the least crunchy.
  • Red is slightly crunchier, may take a little more time to cook and has a bit stronger flavor.
  • Black quinoa takes the longest to cook and has the strongest flavor of the three–the nuttiest of all, some might say.

Metal spoon holding up a scoop of cooked quinoa

Cooking Quinoa

Another benefit to cooking with quinoa is that it’s incredibly easy to work with, often cooking faster than rice does and uses the same technique; the simmering method. Here are some helpful cooking tips:

  • Soak and Rinse: Not soaking or rinsing can leave a mild toxin on the seed, which can sometimes lead to an upset stomach in humans. It also leaves a bitter taste from a natural coating on the grain called saponin. Even if the quinoa is prewashed, it’s good to rinse it.
  • Simmer Method: Cooking quinoa uses the simmering method; bringing the cooking liquid to a boil, covering and then simmering the quinoa until the seeds are tender. Once finished, you can then chill it, serve hot, or lightly cook in another dish.
  • Toasting: After rinsing the quinoa it can be toasted in 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil before simmering to bring out a little bit of the bitterness and nutty flavor of the seed.
  • Yield: If you are trying to plan servings, raw quinoa cooks to 3 times its size. One cup of dried quinoa will yield about 3 cups cooked.

Here are a few of the most popular Quinoa products listed on Amazon.com

Popular Quinoa products on Amazon.com

  1. Kirkland Signature Organic Quinoa
  2. truRoots Organic Quinoa
  3. Nature’s Earthly Choice Organic Quinoa
  4. Viva Naturals Organic Quinoa

Recipes to try

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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Jessica Gavin standing in the kitchen

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15 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. J mcC says

    I’m battling a severe syiatic nerve injury and I need all the best food I can get I lost alot!!! Of weight and alot of muscle this is the best way to get the protein and nutrients I can thanks

  2. Bob LaSala says

    Dear Jessica,

    After enjoying a delicious restaurant breakfast of quinoa, broccoli, onions, mushrooms, poached eggs and pork sausage, I wanted to try a similar breakfast with quinoa at home. Your recipe produces great results. I’ve become a believer! Thank you.

  3. Holly Jackson says

    This is great!!! my husband had to change his diet and we are all supporting him. Today for lunch I had quinoa with pesto and basil and it was DEEEEE-LISH!!! I signed up for your newsletter and look forward to the recipes!!!!

  4. carole says

    The problem I have with quinoa is the # of mins to cook….they cook quickly and start to look like “little ringworms” and get mushy when I use them!

  5. Ramona Ingrassia says

    Your recipes are the best, Jessica. Also lots of great info. Thanks so much for your blog and all the time and effort you put forth.

  6. Linda says

    Very informative, I have printed and saved for reference. I love your educational posts, so helpful when cooking items I am not used to. Thank you for taking the time to educate us!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you so much Linda for taking the time to read the article. I love helping my readers in the kitchen any way I can!