What is Quinoa?

Quinoa
letterberry / Getty Images

While quinoa is usually considered to be a whole grain (similar to regular white rice, brown rice and other grains such as wheat and barley), it is actually a seed, but can be prepared like whole grains such as rice or barley. Try a quinoa salad recipe, or serve a vegetable stir-fry over cooked quinoa instead of rice. Or, if you're looking for a simple, high-protein breakfast idea, swap out your usual oatmeal for some quinoa flakes, which cook just as quickly.

 

Quinoa is staple whole grain for many people for multiple reasons:

  • First, it takes less time to cook than other whole grains and even cooks quicker than rice: Quinoa takes just 10 to 15 minutes to cook.
  • Second, quinoa tastes great on its own, unlike other whole grains such as millet or teff. Add a bit of olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice or a bit of garlic and you're good to go. Add a touch of nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese and you've got yourself a meal. Or at least a side dish.
  • Finally, of all the whole grains, quinoa has the highest protein content, so it's perfect for vegetarians and vegans. Quinoa provides all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
  • Need a fourth reason to love quinoa? Quinoa is a gluten-free and cholesterol-free whole food, is kosher for Passover and is almost always organic.

Culinary ethnologists will be interested to know that quinoa was a staple food for thousands of years in the Andes region of South America as one of just a few crops the ancient Incas cultivated at such high altitude.

As such, quinoa is generally agreed to be an ancient grain -- that is, it is cultivated the same way now that is was millennia ago.

How to Cook Quinoa

Quinoa is very easy to cook. You can prepare quinoa much like the way you would prepare rice. Cover it with water or vegetable broth and simmer it over medium heat until soft, about 15 minutes, giving it a couple quick stirs.

Or, place 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water in your rice cooker.

    Nutritional Content of Quinoa

    According to CalorieCount, 1/3 cup of cooked quinoa has 160 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. 

    Shopping for Quinoa 

    Shop for quinoa in the bulk bins or the baking aisle of natural foods stores, or find it online. More and more grocers are stocking quinoa these days. Check the ethnic foods aisle (sometimes it's next to the couscous and barley), or you might find it near the rice and pasta.

    What to Do with Quinoa

    One of the most popular ways to prepare quinoa is to add some veggies and a dressing to make an easy quinoa salad. You could also try swapping out white rice for quinoa alongside any kind of vegetable stir-fry, or substituting it in any fried rice dish. Quinoa also makes a great hot breakfast cereal, similar to oatmeal. Here are seven ways to eat quinoa for breakfast and more ways to cook quinoa, including what to do with leftover quinoa.

    Use quinoa in just about any recipe calling for rice or another whole grain, such as rice salads, couscous recipes or pilafs. You could try keeping some cooked quinoa on hand to toss into salads, or keep some ready to go in your freezer to add to just about anything.

      Pronunciation: KEEN-wah or KEE-nuh-wah