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?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


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 Report
So high in calories!! But i do like it in soups!! Report
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. Report
I love the nutty flavor of some rices so I know I will love this too. Thanks! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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!
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. Report
I have tried it and love it! Report
I got sick the first time I ate quinoa, does anyone know why? Report
I do like quinoa, great for adding bulk to meals.

On a side note, couscous isn't a grain! Report
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! Report
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! Report
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! Report
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. Report
Love quinoa! Tried it at the suggestion of SparkPeople. I think it is one of the best "new" foods that I have ever tried. Report
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!!! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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!! ;) Report
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! Report
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. Report
Actually just got my first box on Monday! Can't wait to try it!! Thanks for the info and recipes
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. Report
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.
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. Report
I'm convinced-I'll need to buy it and try it. I love soups so that will be a great addition. Thanks all! Report
I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds like it will be good and good for me. Report
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. Report
As a vegetarian always looking for sources of protein - I will have to try this Report
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. Report
I have been looking for a way to add protein into my diet without adding anymore meat. I will give it a try. Report
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! Report
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. Report
I've heard of quinoa for years, but haven't tried it yet. It sounds really good. Report
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. Report
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. Report
I started using it too get more protein once I turned vegan. I love it cold in my salads or hot with veggies. Report
I haven't tried Quinoa let but look forward to trying it soon. I love to try new types of grain products. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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! :) Report
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! Report
No, haven't tried it. Doubt I will, since I fix plenty of wheat, rice, potatoes and oatmeal for starches. Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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. Report
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! Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.