How to cook quinoa

The latest ingredient that’s buzzing its way through the culinary world is quinoa, which seems to be turning up in everything from salads to cereals.

So what can you do with this wonder ingredient, which is regularly touted as a ‘superfood’?

How the heck do you say “quinoa”?

Originally a Quechua (indigenous South American) word that’s had some Spanish influence, “quinoa” can be a tricky term to get your tongue around.

It has been pronounced in many different ways, including “kin-wah”, “kwin-wah”, “kee-no-ah” and “kwi-no-ah”.

However, it’s generally agreed that the correct pronunciation goes something along the lines of “keen-wah”.

What is quinoa and where does it come from?

Quinoa looks, and as we’ll cover soon, is cooked much like a grain such as rice or wheat, but it’s actually a seed.

Quinoa plants hail from the mountainous Andes regions of South America, were held sacred by the ancient Incas, and are actually relatives of spinach.

What’s so great about quinoa?

Quinoa has an interesting nutritional content compared to other grains, being high in protein (approximately 14% – higher than some meats!), iron and fibre, and low in GI and cholesterol.

It’s gluten-free, which is great news for coeliacs, and high in calcium, making it useful to the lactose intolerant.

No wonder NASA is thinking of stocking quinoa on future long-term spaceflights…

Where do you find it?

Quinoa is typically found in health food shops or the organic/gluten free section of the supermarket.

It is becoming increasingly popular though, so you may soon start seeing it in amongst the rices and pastas, and the ground-up version in the flour section of the supermarket.

How to cook quinoa


It is important to note that raw quinoa, straight off the plant, is covered in a saponin; a bitter and soapy-tasting substance that discourages herbivores from grazing on the plant.

Fun fact – saponin is the same substance found in soap nuts, which can be used in your laundry as an organic alternative to washing powder.  But that’s another story…

While commercially-sold quinoa is typically processed and washed to remove the saponin, it’s often worth giving your quinoa a second rinse at home, just to be certain.  No-one wants a bitter and soapy-tasting dish.

Basic cooking

Once washed, quinoa can be cooked in a similar fashion to rice or cous cous.

Cover your quinoa with double its volume in water.  Boil for approximately 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to sit.  The quinoa should absorb the remaining water, making it light and fluffy.

You can also prepare quinoa in a rice cooker.

Fun things to do with quinoa

  • Cook quinoa in stock instead of water, to add additional flavour.
  • Use quinoa in place of rice when preparing a risotto.
  • Mix a variety of vegetables into your quinoa while it cooks, and the quinoa will take on their flavours.
  • Serve quinoa as a meal’s side dish or accompaniment in place of rice, cous cous, or mashed potato.
  • Flavour your quinoa with your favourite herbs and spices – garlic quinoa can be quite tasty.
  • At breakfast, add fruit to a quinoa porridge for a healthy, tasty and nutritious start to the day.
  • Spice and sweeten your quinoa as part of a dessert.
  • Toasting your quinoa in your saucepan prior to boiling can give it a nutty, crispy texture and flavour.
  • Use quinoa flour for gluten-free baking.
  • Mix cooked quinoa in with your sandwich fillings such as tuna, to add extra flavour, contrast and texture.
Mark Bristow
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Mark Bristow

Mark is the proud owner of an impractically large paella pan, and enjoys putting strange new twists on classic recipes. Google+

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