Quinoa is an ingredient that has been growing in popularity for the last few years. My guess is that you've at least heard of it, and maybe seen it listed as an ingredient in a recipe you want to try. In this post, we'll take a deep dive into all the questions you might have about this popular grain.
First things first. Let's learn how to pronounce it. I embarrassed myself for years by pronouncing it wrong--"Quinn-Noah." Then my hip and healthy, green smoothie drinking friend kindly pointed out the right way to say it--"Keen-wah."
Take a minute and practice right now. "Keen-Wah" "Keen-Wah" "Keen-Wah."
You're welcome. Now when you serve an awesome quinoa salad to your family and friends, you can confidently tell them what it is. You won't sound like a noob (as my 9 year old daughter would say).
So what exactly is this weirdly pronounced grain? Let's dive in and find out.
What is Quinoa?
In doing some research for this post I discovered that people like to get political about how to define what quinoa is. I read a few articles debating if it should be classified as a grain or a seed, saw the word "pseudo-cereal," and my brain immediately exploded.
I'll just focus on the basics here.
Quinoa is a seed from the Goosefoot plant, which originated in South America. When you buy it from the store it will come as hard tiny spheres. Once the seeds have been cooked, however, they will appear more like a fluffy grain. They are used in recipes the same way other grains are used, and can easily be a substitute for many of them.
What does it Taste Like?
I kid you not. Every time I look up what a new grain tastes like, the answer inevitably involves the terms, "delicate" and "slightly nutty." What does that mean and why does all the food taste like that?
In reality, it's hard to describe what food tastes like. Quinoa really doesn't have a very strong flavor. It kind of reminds me of a leafy taste. It's also very soft and doesn't really have much texture in your mouth. If I'm being honest, I do not care for plain quinoa all by itself. Even with a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper, it's not my fave.
The great thing about it is that it can take on the flavors of the dish you add it to, and doesn't add much of it's own flavor. This makes it perfect for sneaking healthy things into your kid's (or your own) food.
What are the Health Benefits?
- High in protein! In 1 cup of quinoa there is 8 grams of protein. (For reference, 1 cup of white rice has 4 grams of protein). This makes it a great option for vegetarian dishes.
- Gluten free! Where my gluten free friends at? This grain is for you.
- High in fiber! Take great number twos. (Gross).
- Lots of antioxidants! Antioxidants are helpful in fighting disease and aging.
- High in magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E! All these guys are good for your body.
And these 5 things are just the highlights of the seed's health benefits. If you want to learn more about this subject, check out 11 Proven Health Benefits of Quinoa.
Are There Different Types?
Quinoa does come in different colors, the most popular being white and red. It is also common to find mixed quinoa that combines white, red and black quinoa. I read about other types existing, (like pink, orange, green or purple) but these types are hard to find, even online.
In my experience, there is a very slight difference in taste between white and red quinoa. White has a milder flavor than the red and is also softer. Red has just a slightly chewier texture. That being said, however, they are very similar. I do not believe that using red or white would significantly alter a recipe. When deciding which one to use, I just pick the one that would look prettier in the recipe. Check out "What's the Difference between Red and White Quinoa," to read some quotes from experts about the (non)differences.
The mixed quinoa that I have come across seems to be mostly white quinoa, mixed with a little bit of red quinoa, and an even smaller amount of black quinoa. Because of that, it just tastes like white quinoa to me.
Nutritional differences between colors are slight and insignificant.
What is the Best Way to Cook It?
My favorite ways to cook quinoa is on the stove or in the instant pot. Follow the links for cooking tips.
Can't find Quinoa at the store? Buy it online!
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Using Quinoa in Recipes
One of the greatest thing about quinoa is how versatile it is. You can use it in recipes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is great in salads. It can be substituted for rice. It easily takes on flavors, so it's easy to hide in meals and trick your kids into eating it. Check out my Pinterest board for lots of recipe ideas.
So there you have, everything you ever needed to know about quinoa. Also, I feel pretty good about making it through this whole article without calling it a "superfood" once!