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What is Quinoa?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Though not technically a grain, quinoa can substitute for nearly any grain in cooking. Actually a seed, this leafy plant is a relative to spinach, beets and Swiss chard. Due to its delicate taste and rich amounts of protein, iron, potassium and other vitamins and minerals, it is quite popular. It is also a good source of dietary fiber and is easily digested.

Quinoa is an ancient crop that grows in poor soil, dry climates and even mountain altitudes. It is native to the Andes but is also grown in South America and the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Although it can grow in arid conditions, it thrives best in well-drained soil. Shoppers should be able to find the seeds in health food stores and larger supermarkets.

A quinoa seed is flat and has a pointed oval shape. The seeds can be found in several different colors, including yellow, red, brown and black. When cooked, they expands to about three or four times their original size. They also have a unique texture; the seeds themselves are smooth and creamy, but the tail has a crunchy texture.

When preparing quinoa, cooks should rinse it first to remove any powdery residue. The simplest way to do this is to place the grains in a strainer and rinse them until the water runs clear. For a roasted flavor, they can be toasted in a dry skillet for about five minutes.

To prepare the seeds, cooks should bring one part quinoa and two parts liquid to a boil, then cover and reduce it to a simmer for about 15 minutes or until the grains are translucent. Chefs can also use a rice cooker to prepare it, and some people cook and eat the seeds as they would oatmeal. As a breakfast food, it can be combined with honey, nuts or berries.

Other recipes include quinoa as an ingredient in soups, stews, and pilafs. With their slightly nutty taste, the seeds is sometimes used in bread, muffins, bagels, cookies, and pancakes. It should be stored tightly sealed in a cool dry location or in the refrigerator or freezer for longer periods. The leaves of the plant are also edible, and are said to be similar to spinach leaves.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By golf07 — On Oct 14, 2012

Can you use quinoa as a grain to make bread with? I have seen quinoa flour at the health food store and have wondered if you use this just like you would any other flour?

By LisaLou — On Oct 13, 2012

I used to have to make a special trip to a health food store to buy quinoa, but now am able to find it at most any place. Most grocery stores have a health food section where you can find this at.

I haven't tried toasting it in a skillet, but this sounds like it would be delicious. I make a quinoa salad that is different, but very tasty and filling.

It really is important to rinse off the quinoa before using it. If you don't, it has a funny taste to it and is not as easily absorbed. I store my quinoa in the refrigerator until I am ready to use it and I have never had any go bad doing it this way.

By myharley — On Oct 12, 2012

@SarahSon-- I am on a gluten free diet and have found that quinoa is something I can eat without any problems. One of my favorite ways of eating this is just like I would oatmeal. With a little bit of brown sugar, cinnamon. walnuts and blueberries, it is the perfect breakfast that is full of protein and nutrition.

By SarahSon — On Oct 11, 2012

@anon191479-- Not only is quinoa good for diabetics, but also for people who are allergic to gluten. I never realized it was actually a seed and always thought quinoa was a grain.

It's funny that I don't care for the taste of spinach, beets or Swiss chard, but I love the taste of quinoa. I love the nutty taste it has and don't think it all resembles those other foods it is a relative of.

By anon191479 — On Jun 28, 2011

I've found quinoa to be a good substitute for rice, especially since I am a diabetic. It is lower in carbs than plain rice, and works for the same kinds of foods, like curry. It's easy to cook and pretty tasty.

I'm glad it's becoming increasingly easier to find.

By anon103301 — On Aug 11, 2010

in Playa del Carmen Mexico, quinoa can be found in several presentations, seeds: flour, cereal, at Ctisti Fer Tienda naturista on Constituyentes and 15 Av

By anon95371 — On Jul 12, 2010

you can also buy organic quinoa at costco these days.

By anon74903 — On Apr 04, 2010

Quinoa can be purchased at Wholefoods. Cooked and then add cut fresh tomatoes, cilantro and a dash of garlic olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper is delicious!

By anon71738 — On Mar 19, 2010

where can I buy it?

By anon68520 — On Mar 02, 2010

great granola substitute with yogurt! it's delicious!

By anon64567 — On Feb 08, 2010

Quinoa raw isn't too bad but sometimes it's good if you soak it overnight so that it is softer and more easily digested.

By anon51837 — On Nov 09, 2009

1/2 cup cooked quinoa is about 80 calories. I got my info online.

By anon40482 — On Aug 08, 2009

How many calories is .5 cup of cooked Quinoa?

By hansont — On Mar 07, 2008

how is quinoa raw?

By anon3215 — On Aug 16, 2007

Is there any advantages or disadvantages with eating the quinoa raw?

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