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


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
11/4/2008 6:00 AM   :  94 comments

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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  • 44
    I use a rice cooker to cook it and it works perfectly.

    I am a huge fan of quinoa as a substitute for rice and pasta. I LOVE IT! LOVE IT!

    Really good for those on a vegeterian diet too! - 11/4/2008   10:39:12 PM
    I enjoyed eating quinoa when I lived in Bolivia and am delighted that it is now available where I live. I used it recently for a salad with red pepper, corn and black beans. I used cumin for seasoning. - 11/4/2008   8:57:25 PM
  • 42
    I have Organic Quinoa Flour in my cupboard right now. I frequently cook for three grandchildren on gluten free diets and we use quinoa. You can get individual packets of quinoa to use as cereal, like instant cereal. - 11/4/2008   6:44:34 PM
    I've tried quinoa in at least a couple of ways and I really like it. I live in Peru so we can get it easily here (: It feels great to be a Peruvian and know that a national product is in demand nowadays! - 11/4/2008   5:05:44 PM
  • 40
    I've eaten quinoa several times. My favorite way is to pair it with a low-fat chicken cordon bleu recipe from Weight Watchers. I discovered quinoa because I was on the Weight Watchers diet for a few months several years ago, and quinoa is a Core food - i.e., you don't have to count it when you eat it on the Core plan.

    It's definitely very nutty. I haven't used a ricecooker to make it, since making it on the stove is pretty simple. It's especially good paired with other strongly-flavored foods. - 11/4/2008   4:42:22 PM
  • 39
    I've eaten quinoa quite a bit. My favorite was when I made a quinoa salad with dried cranberries, orange segments, orange juice, and a few other things. It was delicious! - 11/4/2008   4:19:40 PM
  • 38
    I like Quinoa in salad (I have shared a recipe on SP - Quinoa a la Tricotine) or as a cereal with Goat Milk and Cinnamon - 11/4/2008   3:09:36 PM
  • 37
    The first time I ate this was at Boma's at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge for breakfast! It was kind of like oatmeal and really good! - 11/4/2008   2:08:35 PM
  • 36
    I have heard of this but not a discription. Sounds very yummy, and something I will try as soon as I can find it. Thanks for the information. - 11/4/2008   1:02:54 PM
  • 35
    WOW thanks for the informative blog. I've never had this (at least I didn't know I did) but from what it sounds like it's very diverse and tasty. I've added it to my grocery list. - 11/4/2008   12:56:11 PM
  • 34
    I love quinoa porridge. I just cook it with rice milk! - 11/4/2008   12:35:12 PM
  • 33
    I've only had quinoa as a pasta replacement. I'll have to give it a try. - 11/4/2008   12:10:30 PM
  • 32
    Sounds good, I think I'll add this to my shopping list. - 11/4/2008   12:09:48 PM
  • 31
    I've had Quinoa (at the time, I did not know what it was) my husband purchased it from the health food store, and I cooked and served it like brown rice. I had to add a little extra seasoning to the dish for flavor, but it was well received by my family. - 11/4/2008   12:04:32 PM
    I use this in turkey meatloaf!! Delicious - 11/4/2008   11:22:43 AM
  • 29
    I always wondered about this. I can`t wait to try it. - 11/4/2008   11:13:51 AM
  • 28
    I know this can be a substitute for brown rice. I will put this on my shopping list. - 11/4/2008   11:08:37 AM
    I just use a rice cooker to make quinoa. I ate it sprouted at a raw food restaurant in Napa Valley and it was absolutely delicious. Excellent health food and relatively low Glycemic Index for a "grain." I almost always add chopped avocado to my prepared quinoa to round out the flavor. Yummmmm! - 11/4/2008   11:08:11 AM
  • 26
    I haven't tried it yet, but seeing that it's no harder to cook than rice, I think I will add it to our shopping list. :D - 11/4/2008   10:57:08 AM
  • 25
    No. Never tried it but yes I will most definitely. Being diabetic i need all the protein i can get. thanks for the article. - 11/4/2008   10:55:59 AM
    PVT1978: It's pretty mild in taste, similar to brown rice but slightly nuttier. It's not as strong as barley or wheatberries in taste. It's really pretty innocuous. - 11/4/2008   10:43:16 AM
  • 23
    Never tried it before, but after reading this article, I'd love to. - 11/4/2008   10:40:14 AM
  • 22
    Thanks for this article. I actually bought some a couple weeks ago but have yet to try it. I will give it a try this week. My concern was about the taste. What does it taste like? Is it closer to a pasta or a rice taste? That's been the reason I haven't tried it yet - not sure about what to expect taste-wise. I think the recipe someone mentioned with shrimp and garlic, olive oil and capers sounds like just the ticket for me to try! - 11/4/2008   10:33:01 AM
  • 21
    We will on occasion make quinoa and millet in the rice cooker. I use it as a breakfast cereal and with dinner instead of rice. I will sometimes use cooked quinoa with blueberries for a yummy breakfast. - 11/4/2008   10:27:51 AM
  • 20
    I was skeptical, but it is pretty good. - 11/4/2008   10:19:05 AM
    I've heard that a rice cooker works for quinoa. I've never tried it. Let me know if you do! - 11/4/2008   9:52:46 AM
  • 18
    Just this weekend, I bought a brown rice and quinoa mix. Can't wait to try it! - 11/4/2008   9:47:23 AM
  • 17
    If you are like me and live far away from the likes of Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, you can order many healthy food items from the Vitamin Cottage online. It is only $2.24 a pound.
    - 11/4/2008   9:33:26 AM
  • TWINSMOM0429
    Thanks for the info. I am interested in trying this "power food" - 11/4/2008   9:29:39 AM
  • 15
    Thank You!
    I am determined to incorporate more of the power house foods into our diet.
    I really appreciate the additional info AND some new recipes! All the ones I have tried end up tasting the same as they all included black beans and cumin!
    I also have tried mixing a small cooked portion with apple turnover fat free yogurt and sprinkle with cinnamon!
    Thanks again! - 11/4/2008   9:23:45 AM
  • 14
    Thanks for the article. I have added quinoa to my shopping list! - 11/4/2008   9:16:32 AM
  • 13
    If you like couscous, I find that quinoa is a healthy substitute, just cook it apart from the other meal components. - 11/4/2008   8:59:15 AM
  • 12
    Quinoa cooks up fairly easily just like rice - rinse quinoa, bring water to a boil, add quinoa, return to boil, simmer...shh...all done! fluff with fork and enjoy :D - 11/4/2008   8:44:29 AM
  • 11
    Quinoa cooks really quickly - I dry saute it first - for about 5 minutes to get it toasty and grainier - then about 10 minutes in boiling water.. .a rice cooker might make it mushy..'

    Do make sure you rinse it first -the outer shell fo the quinoa grain contains a natural insect repellent and can be bitter... - 11/4/2008   8:40:29 AM
  • 10
    Yes, thank you for this article. I have been considering this for a while but have stuck with the same old, brown rice which we love. But this sounds very interesting. Like Shadowpup, I am wondering if I can just throw it in my rice cooker with the same results, I'm thinking yes . . . what the heck! Thanks again for this info!!! - 11/4/2008   8:36:50 AM
  • 9
    I absolutely love Quinoa! I was introduced to it by Nicole from the Biggest Loser Season 4... She went on and on about it, so I just had to try it! Well I will say one thing about it too, it may be higher in calories than rice, etc., BUT you really don't need 1/2 cup as a serving, I cook up a 1/4 cup, it has about the same amount of calories as a 1/2 cup of brown rice, and it really seems to fluff up a lot more than rice, so 1/4 cup really always seems to be enough for me. I love cutting tomatoes into it while it's cooking... just an idea. Thanks for the article! - 11/4/2008   8:30:59 AM
  • 8
    the newest cookbook from the editors of cooks illustrated magazine has a wonderful recipe for Quinoa that has shrimp, olive oil, tons of garlic, lemon juice, capers, and a bit of olive oil... and it's fabulous... - 11/4/2008   7:53:03 AM
    I tried this during the summer but didn't really love it. I suppose after reading this, I should give it another try. I'll have to check out the recipe link. - 11/4/2008   7:48:37 AM
  • 6
    I LOVE Quinoa! I use it in Pilaf, and also in stews and as you said, like Couscous. The kids like the way it looks.

    Beth G - 11/4/2008   7:45:47 AM
  • 5
    Sounds interesting. I'd never even heard about it till I read your blog. I wonder what it's called in France. I'll look around for it and certainly try it out if I manage to locate some. Thanks. - 11/4/2008   7:42:32 AM
  • 4
    I've never tried this but have wondered about it. I'm attempting to try new things now so this is now on the "new things to try" list. - 11/4/2008   7:27:26 AM
  • 3
    I wish I could find some in this country. I live outside the USA - 11/4/2008   6:48:22 AM
  • 2
    I love quinoa, and I have a recipe with veggies and rosemary that paired very well with leg of lamb last Christmas. The only time it didn't turn out was when I substituted quinoa for brown rice in crockpot stuffed peppers, 9 hours in the crockpot made the quinoa very squishy. - 11/4/2008   6:11:00 AM
  • 1
    Does anyone use a ricecoooker for this - similar to steel cut oats? - 11/4/2008   6:09:52 AM

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