You Asked: What Is Quinoa, and How Do I Eat It?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

The dailySpark reader AHHGEE recently asked about quinoa.

Quinoa is turning up everywhere these days. This little grain, while still relatively unknown in North America, has been around since ancient Inca times, when warriors reportedly mixed quinoa with fat and rolled it into "war balls" that sustained them during lengthy battles. It comes from the Andean region of South America.

What is it?
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah or kee-no-uh) is called the mother of all grains and for good reason. It was second in nutritional importance to the Incas; only the potato was more highly revered and respected. It's small, slightly larger than couscous, and when it's cooked it looks like a small spiral. It can range in color from cream to beige or red.

Is it good for you?
Quinoa is 12-18% protein, which is quite high for a grain, gluten free and easy to digest. Unlike most other grains, it contains a full, balanced set of amino acids; it's also a good source of fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron.

How do you eat it?
Quinoa can be used in place of rice, couscous or any other grain. It gets fluffy when cooked, and holds up well in "fried rice," pilafs, and other recipes. It can be eaten plain or flavored just as you would any other grain.
It also makes a great breakfast cereal. Add it to oatmeal in the mornings or sweeten leftover plain quinoa with dried fruits, honey and nuts.

How do I cook it?
In nature, quinoa has a bitter outer coating that helps deter insects and animals from eating it; however, most quinoa has been processed to remove the coating, called saponins.

Quinoa is easy and quick to cook. Use a 2:1 ratio of water to quinoa. Bring water and quinoa to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. It should have a tiny curl and have the texture of pasta when cooked.

It tastes nuttier than rice or couscous, but it isn't as strong as barley or wheatberries. It should be slightly chewy when you cook it.

Find more quinoa recipes here.

Where do I buy it?
In the health food section of your supermarket in boxes (try the red heirloom variety) or alongside other grains in the pasta aisle. You can also find it in bulk at many larger grocery stores (such as Whole Foods). Like most grains, it is fairly inexpensive, though prices vary.

Nutrition info for 1/2 cup, cooked
(Note: Quinoa is higher in calories and fat than other grains, but it also has more nutrition.)
292 calories
4.8 g fat
52.7 g carbs
5.1 g fiber
10.2 g protein
20% RDA iron
39% RDA phosphorus
85% RDA riboflavin

Have you tried quinoa? Will you? How do you cook it?

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  • 112
    I personally prefer Quinoa compared to rice. I always enjoy couscous but when looking at the fiber and protein I will choose Quinoa.
    Excellent article. - 7/23/2016   10:35:32 PM
  • 111
    Quinoa is even easier to make in a rice cooker -- use the same ratios, press the button and when it beeps -- perfect fluffy quinoa every time! I cook all sorts of grains in my rice cooker -- best kitchen gadget ever! - 6/13/2016   2:01:14 AM
  • 110
    I've used it as a rice substitute and as an addition to just like rice in so many dishes..... - 5/2/2016   3:30:16 PM
  • 109
    I have never cooked Quinoa but would love to try it. - 5/2/2016   2:58:59 PM
  • 108
    I tried it twice but apparently I can't figure out how to clean and cook it. It tasted horrible to me. - 5/2/2016   11:58:20 AM
  • 107
    I have used it in everything from baking to soups, salads, and my veggie mix Absolutely Great.. - 5/2/2016   10:21:48 AM
  • 106
    Quinoa is so good! I have had it numerous times and my boyfriend makes an organic mac and cheese with it. It is great by itself too! :) - 1/14/2016   1:59:51 AM
    I have sometimes had quinoa in a salad someone makes, primarily - and enjoyed it. My husband has had it b/c recommended for low carbers and had a strong stomach/intestinal reaction to it - we were told that some people need to break in it slowly. He hasn't tried again, but maybe one day..... - 10/25/2015   5:31:30 PM
  • 104
    Love quinoa! I cook in my rice cooker with veggie broth. I mix it with cooked beans (adzuki) and make bean burritos for breakfast, or as a grain for dinner. Yummo! - 6/30/2015   3:02:09 PM
  • 103
    Unfortunately Quinoa is not ours; it comes from Bolivia and we're depleting the the seeds (their staple) to suit our needs. The farmers are selling the llamas to make more room to grow the crop, however the manure is what helps maintain the soil there and the land is starting to degrade. There is however a company in Colorado growing quinoa, but the demand is so great that they can't keep it in stock either. I love quinoa, but more importantly I believe in sustainability and eating quinoa is not being responsible - 6/30/2015   10:10:10 AM
    Quinoa is not a grain. It is a seed. - 6/30/2015   2:04:31 AM
  • 101
    Family still isn't thrilled with this stuff. - 5/10/2015   8:04:38 AM
    This article is 7 years old and contains incorrect nutritional information. Don't you think you owe it to Sparkpeople members to correct it?!?!?! - 5/9/2015   12:00:49 PM
    I found a recipe on SparkPeople for quinoa dark chocolate brownies that I love. Glad this article reminded me of them, it's about time to make them again. - 5/9/2015   10:56:23 AM
  • 98
    Thank you for this blog. Awesome. - 5/9/2015   8:55:43 AM
  • 97
    I recently tried it and like it. To me it's comparable to couscous. - 5/2/2015   2:46:57 PM
  • 96
    I usually have a container of Quinoa in my fridge to add to whatever I'm testing out that day. (I like to try new things!) My favorite recipe is a variation of "Sharky's" Harvest Quinoa salad with baby spinach, baby kale and arugula, dried blueberries and cranberries, raisins, chopped or slivered almonds, chopped apple, and feta cheese with a lemon vinaigrette-type of dressing - 5/2/2015   11:58:01 AM
    I like quinoa, but the other day I got a salad & it had toasted quinoa in it & that was awesome. I had never had it that way before. Now I need to find out how to toast it myself. - 5/2/2015   8:46:17 AM
    Thank you, going to try this instead of brown rice. (wrap in seaweed, and your favorite vegetable.) Really like the idea of the "war balls". A quick snack! 😆 For the fat, your favorite cheese. - 2/14/2015   10:23:20 AM
    Thank you, going to try this instead of brown rice. (wrap in seaweed, and your favorite vegetable.) Really like the idea of the "war balls". A quick snack! 😆 For the fat, your favorite cheese. - 2/14/2015   10:23:18 AM
  • 92
    Quinoa tastes like pillbugs smell. - 9/3/2014   1:15:16 PM
  • 91
    Yes I love it. Sweet or savory. The only thing I don't like is the calorie count, almost 300 cals in 1/2 cup...WOW. I'm going to try it in some oatmeal along with some ground flax, maybe 1/3 of each. That sounds healthy!! - 3/8/2012   5:56:15 PM
    Seeing the real nutritional numbers will have me trying quinoa as soon as I find it in a store. I really dislike brown rice and hope to find something else to replace it and maybe this will be it. - 7/24/2011   7:54:18 PM
  • 89
    I bought some, but have not cooked it yet. I see a lot of recipes that include legumes. Is anyone else sensitive to legumes? - 1/27/2011   4:03:51 PM
  • 88
    I have never heard of it but will try it - and may recommend it to a friend who is on a gluten free diet. It does seem a little hi in calories but I guess I would just plan my fruits and veggies around it since it is a good source of protein - 1/15/2011   8:18:39 PM
  • 87
    So high in calories!! But i do like it in soups!! - 9/22/2010   10:31:46 PM
  • 86
    Where would i purchase this? and what isle would it be on... i mean what kind of foods would it be near in the store? I would like to give it a try. - 9/16/2010   9:54:47 PM
  • 85
    I love the nutty flavor of some rices so I know I will love this too. Thanks! - 9/16/2010   6:14:23 PM
  • 84
    Thanks to THREEPETS3 for posting the link to the correct nutritional information. I would not try this grain if it had the calorie count listed above. With the new info, I might give it a try. - 9/16/2010   9:58:46 AM
  • 83
    I've just recently discovered quinoa, and I love it! It's easy to prepare and very versatile. I'm looking forward to trying some of the recipes. Thanks. - 5/24/2010   7:54:42 AM
  • ROWAN813
    My DH and I love quinoa. I jsut cook it in chicken broth and use it like I would rice. It has been a niceaddition to the pantry!
    - 4/16/2010   4:54:07 PM
  • 81
    I just finished a week of wheat-free, rye-free, oat-free and rice-free eating. Quinoa was a lifesaver, although I wish I had looked at the recipes before starting the week. - 4/16/2010   1:42:01 AM
  • 80
    I have tried it and love it! - 4/15/2010   2:10:13 PM
  • 79
    I got sick the first time I ate quinoa, does anyone know why? - 4/15/2010   1:47:26 PM
  • 78
    I do like quinoa, great for adding bulk to meals.

    On a side note, couscous isn't a grain! - 4/15/2010   1:37:35 PM
  • 77
    I've been wanting to try Quinoa for ages, just haven't known how to cook it. I'll use some of the suggestions here and give it a try! I'm a pescatarian, who rarely eats fish, so I'm always on the lookout for ways to increase my protein intake! - 4/15/2010   9:39:00 AM
  • 76
    I recently tried quinoa for the first time and loved it! Had some for left-overs the next day mixed with some brussel sprouts and a tiny bit of soy sauce - yum! - 2/19/2010   10:47:46 AM
    Quinoa is one of my favorite foods! It's so versatile and delicious. I rinse it first, then toast in a dry skillet. That makes it kind of nutty in flavor. My husband and I really enjoy it when prepared like Mexican rice. Yum, yum, yum! Thanks for the great article. I don't think I was aware that it was complete in amino acids. Terrific! - 2/16/2010   6:45:10 PM
  • 74
    I have never tried Quinoa, but will now. The most attractive part of it for me is the high protein content! Being a vegetarian, I always struggle to meet my protein target for the day. - 2/16/2010   10:35:09 AM
  • 73
    Love quinoa! Tried it at the suggestion of SparkPeople. I think it is one of the best "new" foods that I have ever tried. - 2/16/2010   8:44:59 AM
  • 72
    Guys this grain is excellent as well as the flaxseed, if you do not want to cook it, just smush it and add it to a fruit yogurth, specially at breakfast, in order to boost your energy, try it on!!! - 3/24/2009   9:38:33 AM
    Great Stuff! The nutrional information listed here is WAY off however. A half cup of Quinoa only has about 110 calories. A FULL cup is 220... Do a little research on the net for the correct numbers. - 3/23/2009   1:21:47 PM
  • 70
    I love quinoa! I actually had it last night. I tried it about 2 years ago for the first time and often use it in place of brown rice or pasta - cook it in chicken broth. I always have to remind my man what it is before he will eat it. - 3/12/2009   2:49:11 PM
    KEEN-wah is the correct pronunciation- not kwuh-NO-uh or KWIN-wah...
    I am going to try this. It's one on the list of ten, that I haven't... sooo... here goes!! ;) - 3/11/2009   11:26:48 AM
  • 68
    I put 1/2 cup of it in the microwave. When it's finished cooking, I mix 1/2 cup edameme in with it. What a great protein dish that is easy to make! - 3/11/2009   7:52:42 AM
    Quinoa is delicious and healthy so I hope nobody is scared to try it because of the calorie content stated in this article. 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa has nowhere near 292 calories, an entire cup cooked doesn't even have that much! The other nutritional info is also off. You can find a complete nutritional profile for a cup of cooked quinoa here:

    So you can enjoy it without fear that a half cup is going to bust your calorie budget for the day. - 3/10/2009   10:01:22 PM
  • 66
    Actually just got my first box on Monday! Can't wait to try it!! Thanks for the info and recipes
    - 3/10/2009   6:47:45 PM
  • 65
    We've been using Quinoa for about a year now and we love it! We've mostly cooked it with low sodium chicken broth but it mixes well with veggies. - 1/10/2009   8:02:40 PM
  • 64
    I love quinoa and have convinced a few skeptics to try it.
    I prepare it for dinner and add diced zuchinni, red peppers, eggplant and/or whatever other vegetables I have. I saute the veggies seperately with some fresh garlic and a little olive oil, then toss together with the quinoa when it's finished. I could eat just this and be satisfied.
    - 11/9/2008   6:32:57 AM
  • 63
    I ate it once. ( I had the hardest time pronoucing it. I) liked it and I will try it again. I like the idea of adding dried fruit to it as an alternative breakfast grain. - 11/8/2008   12:09:27 AM

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