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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  • 62
    I'm convinced-I'll need to buy it and try it. I love soups so that will be a great addition. Thanks all! - 11/7/2008   4:11:14 PM
  • 61
    I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds like it will be good and good for me. - 11/6/2008   5:52:39 AM
  • 60
    I tried quinoa for the first time about a month ago- the box I bought has a great recipe on the back for stuffed peppers. My brother, who doesn't like anything, loved them. I'm trying the red variety next. - 11/6/2008   5:07:43 AM
  • 59
    As a vegetarian always looking for sources of protein - I will have to try this - 11/6/2008   1:00:46 AM
  • 58
    HA--one of my first classes in college was taught by a genetics professor who (along with half of the department) is trying to breed Quinoa for better production/disease resistance, and is very involved with it. As such, he mentioned the plant ALL THE TIME, to the point that my friend Brian and I started keeping a tally on the back of my notebook (I think it got up into the twenties--which is a lot considering the class was botany, and didn't really need quite that much Quinoa), and laughed like the immature freshman we were when ever he brought it up.

    Ah, the memories.

    And yes, he was such a strong advocate for it because it is so high in protein. - 11/6/2008   12:40:46 AM
  • 57
    I have been looking for a way to add protein into my diet without adding anymore meat. I will give it a try. - 11/5/2008   2:51:15 PM
  • 56
    I love quinoa! It is even easier to cook than rice, more like cooking pasta. You don't have to measure the water if you don't want to, just boil it like pasta and drain it. It is wonderful in soups, and very good with spinach and feta cheese! - 11/5/2008   2:03:16 PM
  • 55
    I've eaten quonia off and on for years....I recently tried a recipe from Sparks recipes for Quinoia added to chicken soup instead of rice or noodles...It was excellent! Made chicken soup even more healthy so I intend to use this in soups and stews as a heathier addition in place of noodles. - 11/5/2008   12:53:03 PM
  • 54
    I've heard of quinoa for years, but haven't tried it yet. It sounds really good. - 11/5/2008   12:14:38 PM
  • 53
    I liked the taste of the Quinoa dish I had, but I was disappointed in the lack of needing to chew. It was too easy to eat too much without having the satisfaction (and time consumption to make the eating experience last longer) of chewing. Just like I prefer oat cereals to oatmeal, apples to natural applesauce, etc. - 11/5/2008   10:20:52 AM
  • PANDORA130
    As a gluten-free vegetarian, quinoa is a staple in my kitchen. I always rinse the quinoa in a strainer to remove any residual bitterness. For breakfast I'll cook up the white variety with walnuts or pine nuts, raisins, chopped apple, cinnamon and splash of agave. Yummy. - 11/5/2008   8:36:59 AM
  • 51
    I started using it too get more protein once I turned vegan. I love it cold in my salads or hot with veggies. - 11/5/2008   8:27:28 AM
  • 50
    I haven't tried Quinoa let but look forward to trying it soon. I love to try new types of grain products. - 11/5/2008   8:04:59 AM
  • 49
    Thanks for the article. I've always wanted to try, but I'm usually skeptical about new grains (too many raves over something that didn't meet up). I will try it, though, maybe with the corn, black beans and cumin ( this is similar to a rice dish I already make), or with cranberries, apples, and cinnamon. - 11/5/2008   3:35:12 AM
  • 48
    I love it! You can flavor it to whatever you are eating. I am happy to see the nutritional value. Very nice~ I like the nutty taste. - 11/5/2008   1:28:13 AM
  • 47
    I'm always up for trying new foods so I'd love to try it. My only concern is that I am trying oh so hard to loose weight so I do find it a bit intimidating that Quinoa is higher in fat and calories than other grains. I'm working on portion control and moderation so once I get that down, and I'm confident that I won't eat an entire box of Quinoa, then I'll give it a go! :) - 11/5/2008   1:21:59 AM
  • 46
    But Jibbie, don't forget, it's generally much more nutritious than just a starch. Those you listed won't provide nearly the amount of protein which is one of quinoa's specialties. And why not just give it a go? Who knows, it may turn into a favourite! - 11/5/2008   1:08:53 AM
  • 45
    No, haven't tried it. Doubt I will, since I fix plenty of wheat, rice, potatoes and oatmeal for starches. - 11/5/2008   12:23:05 AM
  • 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

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