How to Cook Quinoa

My go-to method for cooking quinoa so it’s perfectly cooked and fluffy. Use this quinoa in place of rice, for salads or as an easy side!

Have you seen the Progressive commercial where they’re having people try to pronounce quinoa?! I won’t lie… I laugh every time I see it.

Spoiler alert: you pronounce it keen-wah!

I am a quinoa lover and have been for years. I love making it to use in salads, soups and casseroles. It’s such a versatile little seed. Yes, it’s a seed. I know it seems like a grain, but it’s actually a pseudocereal.

Bowl of quinoa with a serving spoon. Quinoa is topped with pepper and chopped parsely.

Quinoa 101

If you’re new to quinoa, let’s start with the basics. Like I mentioned above, quinoa is technically a seed, but it is prepared similarly to grains like rice and barley.

It is a staple in South American cuisine and has gained popularity in North America over the years. In terms of taste, quinoa has a mild, nutty, earthy taste similar to brown rice.

Why is Quinoa So Great?

Quinoa is often considered a superfood and for good reason. Here’s why:

  • a good source of plant-based protein – one cup has 8 grams, the same amount that is in a cup of whole milk!
  • a complete protein, which means it has all nine essential amino acids including lysine… a rare find when it comes to plant-based foods
  • high in fiber – one cup of cooked quinoa has 5 grams of fiber. There are a ton of health benefits of a fiber-rich diet including healthy digestion, prevention of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels and better controlled blood sugar levels. Fiber also helps to keep you feeling full, which can help with weight loss.
  • rich in vitamins – quinoa is a good source of B vitamins (over 10% of the RDA for vitamins B1, B2 and B6), vitamin E and a variety of antioxidants.
  • rich in minerals – quinoa is a good source of minerals including manganesephosphorus, copperfolateironmagnesium, and zinc.
  • naturally gluten-free, making it great for anyone who is celiac or needing to avoid gluten in their diet.

Learn more about the health benefits of quinoa here.

Which is Healthier: Quinoa vs. Rice

Often times you’ll see quinoa used as a rice substitute so you may be wondering if quinoa is healthier than rice.

It is! Overall, quinoa is a healthier choice than rice, especially white rice which is processed and not considered a whole grain.

While the calories are similar, around 200 per cup for quinoa and rice, 1 cup of quinoa has double the amount of protein and fiber than 1 cup of white rice.

Quinoa also has more micronutrients like iron, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and calcium.

When comparing quinoa to brown rice, the two are more comparable because brown rice is a whole grain and still contains some of the powerful nutrients that are lost in the processing of white rice.

Quinoa and brown rice have similar calories, fiber and micronutrients per serving, but quinoa does still have higher amounts of protein and less carbs! So overall, I’d say quinoa is healthier than rice.

Pot of quinoa topped with parsley. A spoon is in the pot.

White, Red, Black, Sprouted…Which Quinoa Do I Buy?

There was probably a period of time where you could only buy quinoa at health food stores. Not anymore! Quinoa is at most major grocery stores! You can find it in the natural food section or by the other grains.

You’ll often find a variety of options from white, red, black, tri-color and sprouted.

They’re all cooked the same way and nutritionally they’re very similar. Red quinoa does tend to be higher in antioxidants and sprouted quinoa has less phytic acid, which makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.

I’ve personally tried them all, but tend to use regular white quinoa most often because it’s the least expensive and easy to find. It also has the mildest flavor and is fluffier than the colored varieties.

Red and black quinoa are a bit chewier, which works well in certain dishes where you want the quinoa to hold its shape, like quinoa salads. It’s also fun to use the red and black varieties when you want to add a pop of color to a dish.

My favorite brand of quinoa is Ancient Harvest, mostly because their quinoa comes pre-rinsed, which is a time saver. I’ve used this brand for years!

Do You Have to Rinse Quinoa?

After research and making quinoa with and without rinsing, I’ve decided that rinsing is entirely up to you!

The purpose of rinsing the quinoa is to remove its natural coating, called saponin, which can make your cooked quinoa taste bitter or soapy. 

That said, skipping the rinsing the process won’t hurt you and can definitely save time and annoyance, especially if you don’t have a fine mesh strainer. Just know that unrinsed quinoa will likely result in quinoa with a more earthy, slightly bitter flavor.

The rinsing process really isn’t that bad. Just grab a fine mesh strainer, place the dry quinoa in and rinse until the water runs clear. Drain the quinoa and then add it to your pot for cooking.

Quinoa in a colander getting rinsed in a sink.

How to Make Quinoa Taste Better

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t usually cook quinoa to serve up on its own because it doesn’t taste like much. I use it the same way I use rice… as a base for a flavorful dish that I’m putting on top or incorporated into a recipe where I’m adding more flavor and seasoning along with the cooked quinoa.

For this reason, I usually cook my quinoa with water and forego extra seasonings because I know I’ll be adding more flavor when using the quinoa for my meal.

That said, if you want to serve cooked quinoa as a side dish there are plenty of ways to amp up the flavor.

  • Toast the quinoa before cooking – I didn’t include this in my recipe because I rarely toast my quinoa unless a recipe calls for toasting, but it is a good way to bring out the oil and nuttiness of the quinoa, adding a depth of flavor. To toast quinoa simply rinse and drain well, then add the quinoa to your dry pot over medium heat and sauté the quinoa, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes or until the quinoa is aromatic. Then add your water and salt and continue to cook.
  • Cook the quinoa in broth instead of water – you’ll use the same amount, but the flavor of the broth will add a depth of flavor to the cooked quinoa. You can use vegetable broth, chicken, beef or even bone broth.
  • Stir in toppings – once cooked you can stir in a variety of toppings to add flavor. I like adding a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped fresh herbs, lemon juice or a sprinkle of cheese.
Pot with cooked quinoa topped with chopped parsley and pepper. A spoon is in the pot.

How to Use Quinoa

Once you’ve cooked your quinoa there are SO many ways to use it! I love meal prepping quinoa and using it in a variety of ways throughout the week. Here are some of my favorites:

Bowl of quinoa with a serving spoon. Quinoa is topped with pepper and chopped parsely.

More Quinoa Recipes to Try:

If you make this recipe be sure to leave a comment and star rating below letting us know how it turned out for you. Your feedback is so helpful for the EBF team and our readers!

Pot with cooked quinoa topped with chopped parsley and pepper. A spoon is in the pot.

How to Cook Quinoa

Brittany Mullins
My go-to method for cooking quinoa so it's perfectly cooked and fluffy. Use this quinoa in place of rice, for salads or as an easy side!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Side
Cuisine American
Servings 3 cups
Calories 222 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup dry quinoa any color
  • 1 3/4 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • optional toppings: ground pepper olive oil fresh herbs, etc.

Instructions
 

  • Rinse: Rinse and drain quinoa in a fine mesh strainer. I have a hand-held one that works great.
  • Cook: Place quinoa, water and salt into a medium saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer, cover and let it cook for 15 minutes.
  • Serve: Remove from heat after 15 minutes and place quinoa in a large bowl to cool. Adding toppings before serving or use in any recipes that call for cooked quinoa.
  • Store: Once cooled, place quinoa in an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for about 1 month. 

Notes

  • Toast the quinoa before cooking – I rarely toast my quinoa unless a recipe calls for toasting, but it is a good way to bring out the oil and nuttiness of the quinoa, adding a depth of flavor. To toast quinoa simply rinse and drain well, then add the quinoa to your dry pot over medium heat and sauté the quinoa, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes or until the quinoa is aromatic, then add your water and salt and continue to cook according to the recipe.
  • Cook the quinoa in broth instead of water – the flavor of the broth will add a depth of flavor to the cooked quinoa. 
  • Stir in toppings – once cooked you can stir in a variety of toppings to add flavor. I like adding a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped fresh herbs, lemon juice or a sprinkle of cheese.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 222kcalCarbohydrates: 39gProtein: 8gFat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gSodium: 13mgFiber: 5g
Keyword quinoa
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.

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Recipe Rating




    2 comments
    1. Connie Henshall
      March 29, 2021 AT 11:25 am

      5 stars
      Thanks for this great article, Brittany! Quinoa salads are my go-to meal during summer. I look forward to trying more of your recipes.

      1. Brittany Mullins
        March 29, 2021 AT 1:43 pm

        I love quinoa salads!! So glad you’re loving the recipes, Connie. 🙂

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