How to Cook Quinoa
Learn how to cook quinoa to fluffy, nutty perfection by following these five simple steps.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
What Is Quinoa?
Did you know quinoa was a staple in the diet of the ancient Incas? Although it's technically a seed, quinoa is treated like a whole grain and cooks up much faster than most others — and anyone who's stood watching a pot of brown rice take its sweet time to become tender can appreciate that. When cooked, these seeds expand rapidly and significantly, become tender but chewy and expel spirals that boast the slightest crunch. Quinoa becomes light, fluffy, nutty and the ideal canvas to showcase intense flavors, rich textures and your favorite veggies, meats and sauces. Plus, quinoa boasts a solid 8 grams of protein per every uncooked 1/2 cup — and it’s gluten-free. It comes in different varieties, with different colors as well (white, red and black are the most-common), which can be a lot of fun to play with, visually. You can cook a big batch at the beginning of the week and use it for days, enjoy it cold or reheat it for dinners, adding vegetables for a portable salad and more. So what are you waiting for? Let's get started. (Cooking times vary from type to type, so check package directions.)
What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Quinoa?
According to Dana Angelo White, M.S., R.D., A.T.C., one cup of cooked quinoa has 220 calories, 5 grams of fiber and a whopping 8 grams of protein (almost 50 percent more than an equal portion of brown rice.) You’ll also find hefty doses of thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, zinc, potassium, magnesium and selenium, along with 15 percent of your daily iron needs.
Quinoa is especially unique because it contains all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) that your body needs. Soy is the only other plant-based food that achieves this. It's also gluten-free, so folks with gluten allergies can also enjoy this fluffy, grain-like seed.
Types of Quinoa
White Quinoa: This is the most readily available type of quinoa. It’s often simply labeled as quinoa or might be called ivory quinoa. This quinoa is very light and fluffy.
Red Quinoa: Red quinoa tastes like white quinoa but, when cooked, remains slightly more al dente, holding its shape better. Therefore, red quinoa is a good choice to mix into cold grain salads.
Black Quinoa: This variety is harder to find. Like red quinoa, it maintains its shape better than white quinoa, but it tastes nuttier.
Tri-Color Quinoa: As the name suggests, these quinoa mixes combine all three varieties of quinoa into one so you get the best of all worlds.
Why Rinse Quinoa?
Quinoa with a bitter, soapy flavor is downright unappetizing. Luckily, there’s an easy fix: rinsing. That’s right, rinsing quinoa thoroughly removes quinoa’s bitter coating called saponin, which occurs naturally as quinoa grows to protect it from being eaten by wildlife. Read our step-by-step below to find out how to rinse away the bitter flavor.
How to Cook Perfect Stovetop Quinoa
In addition to these instructions, make sure you check out Food Network Kitchen’s meticulously tested recipe, Perfect Quinoa, pictured above.
Step 1: Rinse Quinoa
Some quinoa has already been pre-rinsed (the package should indicate if it has or not), but this is a necessary step to remove the saponin, which is the bitter coating that occurs naturally as quinoa grows to protect it from being eaten by random wildlife. An additional rinse doesn’t hurt, so when in doubt, rinse. Use a fine-mesh sieve so you don’t lose any of the grains down the drain, and let cold water run over the grains for a few minutes, shaking the sieve and using your hand to move the quinoa around and make sure all of the grains get a good rinse.
Step 2: Toast Quinoa
This step is optional, but it really brings out the flavor in the quinoa. You simply place the quinoa in the saucepan over medium-high heat and give it a shake and a stir every few seconds, for a total of about 4 minutes, until it is golden — watch carefully that it doesn’t burn. You can also heat up a couple teaspoons of olive, vegetable or grapeseed oil (per cup of quinoa) before adding the quinoa for even more flavor.
Step 3: Add Liquid to Quinoa
Add the liquid to the pan, and add the quinoa if you’re skipping the toasting step. The basic ratio is 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid. You can use water (season it with a bit of kosher salt), or you can use any kind of broth (we like to use low-sodium broths and add any extra salt to the finished dish as needed). You can also add a bit of dry white wine to the liquid for another layer of flavor.
Step 4: Simmer Quinoa
Turn the heat to high, bring the liquid to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pot, and simmer gently until the quinoa is cooked, 15 to 20 minutes. The liquid should all be absorbed, and the quinoa will be tender and have sprung a little tendril-y shoot — which is actually the germ of the kernel — indicating it’s done.
Step 5: Fluff Quinoa
When the quinoa is cooked, give it a stir and a fluff with a fork to loosen it up, then cover the pot and let it sit for another 2 minutes or so. You can serve it hot, or you can spread it out in a rimmed baking sheet and let it cool for use in salads and other room temperature dishes.
How to Cook Quinoa In a Rice Cooker
Simply put your quinoa in the rice cooker, turn it on and forget it. No timer, no temperature adjustments and no boiling over. For more info, follow these easy steps.
- Rinse the quinoa thoroughly.
- Grease the inside of the rice cooker with butter or cooking spray.
- Add quinoa to the rice cooker in the ratio of 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid.
- Turn on the rice cooker, setting it to the white rice setting.
- When the rice cooker lets you know the cycle is finished, open it up and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Unlike rice, you can’t let quinoa stay in the rice cooker to keep it warm. Take the quinoa out of the rice cooker right so it doesn’t get mushy.
How to Cook Quinoa In an Instant Pot
There’s almost nothing that cooks faster in the Instant Pot than quinoa. We’re talking a 1-minute cook time under pressure (although the entire cycle takes about 15 to 20 minutes). Just follow these steps, being mindful about the ratio of liquid to quinoa: this method calls for equal portions of quinoa and liquid.
- Rinse the quinoa thoroughly.
- Grease the inside of the Instant Pot with butter or cooking spray.
- Add quinoa to the insert in the ratio of 1 cup quinoa to 1 cup liquid.
- Close and lock the lid.
- Set the cook time to 1 minute.
- Allow the steam to release naturally.
- Open the Instant Pot, fluff the quinoa and remove it from the Instant Pot.
How to Cook Quinoa In a Microwave
Cooking quinoa in the microwave is the fastest method we’ve found. Start to finish, including rinsing, you’re looking at 10 to 12 minutes. Be extra careful when taking the bowl in and out of the microwave: there’s a lot of steam that can burn you.
Step 1: Rinse the quinoa thoroughly.
Step 2: For 1 cup of quinoa, you’ll use 2 cups of liquid, so be sure to use a bowl that holds at least 4 cups so it doesn’t boil over.
Step 3: Put the quinoa in the bowl and cover it with a plate.
Step 4: Microwave for 6 minutes. Carefully open and stir the quinoa, then cover.
Step 5: Cover again and microwave at 80% power until the water is absorbed, about 3 more minutes.
Step 6: Fluff with fork, serve or use in a recipe.
Using quinoa as the grain in any grain bowl means extra flavor and extra protein. Here, it’s the perfect bed for teriyaki salmon and fresh veggies.
Whip up a side of quinoa in just 10 minutes as the pork tenderloin roasts in the oven; it’s an ideal side because it absorbs all the spices from the pork: paprika, red pepper flakes and cumin.
Quinoa adds hearty texture to salads, and this chicken salad is no exception. The grain absorbs the dressing so it’s in every bite.
If you do all the prep for Spicy Quinoa with Sweet Potatoes before you start cooking, you’ll be rewarded with the quinoa and the sweet potatoes ready to go at the same time: they both take 15 minutes to cook.
Cajun seasoning brings some NOLA flavor to this Chicken and Quinoa Soup that cooks in just 20 minutes.