How Do I Choose the Best Quinoa?

Kay Paddock
Kay Paddock
Bowl of cooked quinoa.
Bowl of cooked quinoa.

Quinoa, pronounced "keen-wah," is often called the oldest grain, but it is actually the seed of the chenopodium plant, which is in the same general family as such plants as spinach and beets. There are well over 100 different species of these seeds, but two types — traditional and red — are the ones most commonly available. The red variety may contain slightly more protein and nutrients than the traditional, which is usually a pale yellow or off-white color. Which one is best for your diet or your recipe will depend on your preferences and how you plan to cook it.

Quinoa contains all of the essential amino acids.
Quinoa contains all of the essential amino acids.

Humans are believed to have been cultivating the quinoa seeds for more than 5,000 years. These seeds are protein-rich and full of nutrients, making them a popular staple in many healthy diets, including vegetarian and vegan ways of eating. They contain all the essential amino acids, making them a complete protein. When cooked, they have a slightly nutty flavor and a texture that is probably somewhere between a sunflower seed and firm pasta.

Spinach and quinoa are in the same general plant family.
Spinach and quinoa are in the same general plant family.

Either red or traditional types — or any other types you might be able to find in your local stores — can work when you are cooking with quinoa. The varieties are generally interchangeable, though the taste, texture and color of the dish will change depending on the variety you choose. Traditional quinoa, which is typically the most commonly available kind, is known for its ability to take on whatever flavors it is combined with. If you plan to prepare a dish with a lot of other flavors and textures, it may be a good choice. The red variety often has a slightly stronger taste that might compete with the other flavors.

Quinoa flour is often combined with tapioca, potato starch, and sorghum to create a gluten-free baking mix for cookies and other treats.
Quinoa flour is often combined with tapioca, potato starch, and sorghum to create a gluten-free baking mix for cookies and other treats.

If you want more texture and flavor, red quinoa might be the better option. It often has a nuttier flavor than the traditional variety, and is also generally chewier. The red seeds are a popular addition to salads to add protein and flavor. Traditional quinoa, with its almost rice-like appearance after cooking, is most often used in dishes that might have called for rice or other grains, or as an addition to soups, casseroles and stir-fries.

Non-wheat pastas made from quinoa are a good alternative for those who require a gluten-free diet.
Non-wheat pastas made from quinoa are a good alternative for those who require a gluten-free diet.

When purchasing the seeds, look for packages that say the quinoa has been pre-washed. The seeds are naturally coated in a layer of bitter saponin that helps repel birds. Choosing pre-washed seeds means most of this will have been washed away, though you still might want to rinse them to be sure. If you choose a variety that does not say it has been washed, be sure to rinse extra carefully to avoid a bitter aftertaste with your meal.

People who need wheat alternatives for such things as pasta, flour and grains often turn to this versatile seed for nutrition and flavor. Quinoa pasta and flour are two products you can buy to help replace wheat products in your diet. These nutritional seeds are also good for specialized diets beyond vegan and vegetarian. For instance, serving quinoa whole or in other forms can help replace wheat items in a gluten-free diet.

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Discussion Comments

Grivusangel

I've tried both the red and white quinoa and have been very pleased with both varieties. You can tell it's become the popular, "sexy" food because the price has doubled since I started buying it just a couple of years ago. I guess we have the TV chefs and food media to thank for that.

Quinoa is not nearly as starchy as rice and has much more protein, so it's a great choice for me, but I'm just annoyed the price has gone up so much in such a short time.

In any event, all the quinoa I've purchased has been good, and has worked in every recipe, so I don't know that there's one "best" quinoa. It's all pretty good.

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    • Bowl of cooked quinoa.
      Bowl of cooked quinoa.
    • Quinoa contains all of the essential amino acids.
      By: womue
      Quinoa contains all of the essential amino acids.
    • Spinach and quinoa are in the same general plant family.
      By: mates
      Spinach and quinoa are in the same general plant family.
    • Quinoa flour is often combined with tapioca, potato starch, and sorghum to create a gluten-free baking mix for cookies and other treats.
      By: sarahdoow
      Quinoa flour is often combined with tapioca, potato starch, and sorghum to create a gluten-free baking mix for cookies and other treats.
    • Non-wheat pastas made from quinoa are a good alternative for those who require a gluten-free diet.
      By: Xavier MARCHANT
      Non-wheat pastas made from quinoa are a good alternative for those who require a gluten-free diet.