How to Cook Quinoa

By Holly Bieler
Updated on 15. Feb. 2021

Quinoa is the ultimate superfood, rich in protein, fiber and antioxidants. What's more, it's a delicious and super simple grain to cook with, as long as you have the right info. Find out everything you need to know about cooking perfect quinoa below.

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Table of contents

  1. Types of Quinoa
    1. White Quinoa
    2. Black Quinoa
    3. Red Quinoa 
  2. Preparing your Quinoa
  3. How to Cook Quinoa
    1. Quinoa to Water Ratio
    2. How Long to Cook Quinoa
  4. Basic Quinoa Recipe
  5. How to Serve Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WAH) is pretty much the perfect ingredient. It’s nutritional bona fides are hard to match-- this pseudo-cereal is rich in dietary fiber, cell-protecting antioxidants and powerful minerals like iron and zinc. What’s more, it’s an incredibly potent plant protein, containing all nine of the essential amino acids which comprise protein, which is incredibly rare for a non-animal product. Add to this the fact that quinoa is delicious-- with a nutty flavor that’s like a mixture of brown rice and oatmeal and a unique, slightly couscous-like texture, and it’s obvious why this grain has become an essential home cook staple over the last decade. 

When it comes to cooking quinoa at home, the secret is getting the consistency just right. Perfectly-made quinoa should be slightly creamy but still have some heft to it, soft but slightly crunchy at the same time. And while this ingredient might look more intimidating than traditional Western grains like rice, in reality it’s easy to nail in the kitchen with the right preparation and know-how. 

Types of Quinoa

There are more than 120 known variants of quinoa, but these three are the most common types: white, black and red.

White Quinoa

White quinoa is the most common iteration of this grain, with a subtle flavor and the lightest texture of these three types. It tends to cook up chewier and fluffier than other types of quinoa, and takes less time to cook than others.

Black Quinoa

Black quinoa has a harder, crunchier texture than red or white quinoa, with a more distinctly nutty flavor than other types and a subtle sweetness that makes it particularly delicious in non-savory dishes. Black quinoa has the longest cook-time of the three main types.

Red Quinoa 

Red quinoa is like a more intense white quinoa, with a heartier consistency and more pronounced nutty flavor. It tends to keep its shape better than white quinoa, as well, which makes it the preferred option in cold dishes like salads.

Preparing your Quinoa

Quinoa has a natural coating called saponin, which can yield a bitter flavor if it’s not removed prior to cooking. So make sure to give your quinoa a quick rinse before you throw it in the pot-- simply place it in a fine, double-mesh sieve and rinse for a few seconds under the sink until the water runs clear before preparing. Most boxed quinoas will come pre-rinsed, however to be extra safe, it’s always a good idea to give it an extra rinse before cooking.

Before cooking your quinoa, you might also want to toast it slightly. Many chefs rely on this preparation method to enhance the natural nutty flavors of the grain and add some more bite to the finished product. Simply add your drained quinoa to a medium-high saucepan with a little olive oil, and quickly toast each kernel, making sure to mix it slightly so all sides of the grain brown, about 2-5 minutes total depending on how much quinoa you have. 

How to Cook Quinoa

Cooking quinoa is a seemingly simple process-- simply add your grain to a pot with some water and let it boil until most of the water has evaporated. Indeed the intricacies of cooking quinoa don’t really come in during the cooking process, but in the preparation beforehand. Getting perfect quinoa every time relies on getting the perfect ratio of water and grain in the bowl, and setting aside enough time for the grain to cook all the way through.

Quinoa to Water Ratio

Quinoa to water ratios vary widely, in general calling for everywhere from two cups of water to one cup per every cup of quinoa. We’ve found that 1 ¾ cups of water for every cup of quinoa tends to be the most successful ratio along all types of variants. 

How Long to Cook Quinoa

How long you’ll cook your quinoa depends on how much and what type you’re using. In general, you should aim to cook your quinoa for around 10 minutes for smaller amounts, and 15-20 minutes for larger amounts. As a basic rule of thumb, your quinoa will be ready once all the water has been absorbed by the quinoa, yielding a fluffy texture and the emergence of little white, tail-like bits from each grain, which are actually endosperms.

Basic Quinoa Recipe

- Combine your quinoa, water and some salt to taste in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil under medium-high heat, uncovered.

- Once the water comes to a boil, reduce heat until the water falls to a simmer. Cover your pot, and simmer for 10-20 minutes, depending on how much quinoa you’re using.

- Once most of the water has evaporated and the white tails on each of the grains has metastasized, take the pot off the heat source, and let it sit covered for 5-10 minutes, until the quinoa is fork-tender.

- Fluff the quinoa with a fork, and serve.

How to Serve Quinoa

Once you have your cooked quinoa, there’s no limit to how you can utilize this delicious, healthy grain. 

White quinoa is perfect in nearly everything other grains such as farro or brown rice are generally utilized for. Simply dressed with some salt, pepper and olive oil, white quinoa makes a nourishing simple side dish next to meat-based or vegetarian main entrees. It’s slightly more delicate flavor also stands up to more pronounced flavors, as well. Try tossing it with your favorite fresh or dried herbs such as rosemary or basil, or including some textured additions such as toasted nuts or even dried fruit. 

Beet and Quinoa Salad

Red quinoa’s beautiful flavor and slightly heartier, coarser texture makes it particularly well-suited for cold dishes, such as salads. Try it out in our 

Black quinoa has a slightly more sweet flavor than most other types of quinoa, making it a perfect base for non-savory dishes, especially in the morning. Black quinoa makes a particularly delicious oatmeal-substitute; simply add some maple syrup, nut milk and fruits like berries or apples to a serving of black quinoa for a perfect, protein-rich and delicious alternative to traditional oatmeal in the mornings. 

No matter how you cut it, quinoa is a true culinary superfood. With just a little prep and 15-20 minutes of undisturbed cook time, you’ll have a protein and fiber-rich bowl of grains that will give you whole-body energy throughout the day and a comforting flavor and texture that pairs perfectly in everything from your morning oatmeal to a hearty salad.

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