Learn how to cook quinoa properly so you can enjoy its delicious flavor and get the most nutrients from it. Use our tips and tricks to help you!
Packed with health benefits, quinoa is a versatile ingredient with countless culinary applications.
However, if you prepare it incorrectly, you’ll likely wonder why on earth people actually like it. Poorly cooked quinoa can be mushy and have a very unpleasant aftertaste. Who wants that?
I’ve cooked a lot of quinoa at this point, and I’ve figured out a simple stovetop method that works well for me every time. But before getting into how to cook quinoa, let’s do a brief ingredient overview and cover some frequently asked questions.
What Is Quinoa?
Though it looks and acts like a grain, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is actually a seed!
Native to the Andes Mountains, it is a member of the amaranth family that has been grown for thousands of years for its edible seeds. This Ancient Grain offers a hearty texture and nutty flavor.
So, it’s a perfect addition to salads (like this quinoa apple salad) and soups. Plus, it works as a healthier substitute for pasta and risotto.
Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse! Here’s what it has to offer:
- very rich in protein
- magnesium, and
Most notably, it contains every amino acid including lysine, which is essential for healthy tissue growth.
Popular Types of Quinoa
At the grocery store, you might be surprised to see a colorful array of quinoa on the shelf. Quinoa is available in three varieties:
- white (also called golden)
- red, and
Choosing between these varieties is largely a matter of personal preference.
The most common option, white quinoa, offers the mildest flavor, softest texture, and fastest cooking time. Black quinoa is the crunchiest and requires a longer cooking time, while red falls in between. The red and black varieties make a vibrant addition to salad or risotto, but all three colors are rich in nutrients and flavor.
Is Quinoa Gluten Free?
Because it’s often used instead of grains or pasta, many people assume that quinoa contains gluten. But good news — it’s totally gluten free! Because it’s made from seeds, quinoa is technically a pseudocereal, which makes it a great substitute for traditional grains if you have a gluten intolerance.
How to Cook Quinoa on the Stovetop
Quick Tip: ALWAYS make sure to rinse your quinoa thoroughly before cooking to remove any unpleasant aftertaste.
Cooking quinoa couldn’t be simpler.
- RINSE – Place white quinoa in a mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly.
- BOIL – Transfer the quinoa to a pot and add water and salt, then bring to a boil.
- SIMMER – Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot with a lid. Let the quinoa simmer for around 15 minutes, or until it becomes fluffy and soft.
NOTE: If the quinoa finishes cooking before all the water is absorbed, drain the excess water and fluff the quinoa with a fork. If you let the quinoa soak up the excess water, it’ll become soggy.
The Perfect Quinoa to Water Ratio
One cup of dry quinoa yields about three cups cooked. You’ll want to follow a ratio of 1 cup dry quinoa to 2 cups water to achieve a perfectly fluffy texture. Cooking times vary based on the variety you choose (see note above), but one cup will generally cook in about 15 minutes.
Some recipes call for 20 minutes, but I find this can lead to overcooked quinoa. I prefer it a bit more toothsome. I’ve seen recipes that suggest lowering the water to 1 3/4 cup water, but that doesn’t necessarily make a difference in achieving perfect results.
The key is to not overcook it. If there’s extra water in the saucepan when the desired texture is reached, strain it through a fine-mesh strainer.
Tips for the Best Stovetop Quinoa
Start with a Rinse: Before cooking, it’s very important to rinse raw quinoa to remove saponin, a natural coating on the grains that can cause a bitter, unpleasant taste. Simply soak the grains in cold water for 5 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with fresh tap water.
Spice Things Up: To add extra flavor, swap out water for chicken or vegetable broth, plus ½ teaspoon of salt per cup of dry quinoa. You can also add fresh herbs, aromatic spices, or even crushed garlic for a burst of flavor.
OTHER COOKING METHODS
How to Cook Quinoa in a Rice Cooker
Can you cook quinoa in a rice cooker? You sure can! If you need a hands-off cooking method for busy weeknights, try making quinoa in your rice cooker.
Use the same ratio of dried quinoa to water that you would on the stovetop, and simply follow your rice cooker’s instructions. Don’t let it sit in the rice cooker for too long after it’s finished, though, or the residual steam might overcook the quinoa.
How to Cook Quinoa in an Instant Pot
It’s also very easy to cook quinoa in the Instant Pot, though this is my least used method since I think it’s easier and faster to clean out a saucepan or rice cooker. For this version, decrease the water to 1 1/2 cups total.
- Rinse quinoa under cold running water (always).
- Brush the Instant Pot with a bit of cooking oil (or use your favorite cooking spray) to help minimize sticking, then add the rinsed quinoa, water and salt.
- Lock the lid and set the steam valve to its “sealing” position.
- Select the “Manual” button, then cook on high pressure for 1 minute (it will take a few minutes for the pressure to build before the 1 minute timer counts down).
- Let the pressure release naturally for 8-10 minutes, then release any remaining pressure.
- Fluff the cooked quinoa with a fork and serve!
How to Store Quinoa
Cooked quinoa will stay fresh for up to a week if stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Let the quinoa cool to room temperature before chilling it to prevent moisture from collecting in the container.
Can You Freeze Quinoa?
You can absolutely freeze quinoa. Allow it to cool completely after cooking, then divide into smaller portions and place in freezer bags. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator to use.
You can also get away with using the defrost setting on the microwave, but use it sparingly or your quinoa might get mushy! Thawing in the refrigerator is ideal, when possible.
USES and SERVING SUGGESTIONS
After learning how to cook quinoa, you’ll want to start adding it to your meals. Not sure where to start? There are so many options!
Try swapping out the rice for quinoa in my chicken massaman curry or chicken tikka masala for an extra hit of protein! You could also make a healthy, lightened up version of my greek pasta salad, using quinoa in place of the pasta. You can also add it directly to salad, like my Mediterranean salad.
Here are a few additional ideas:
- Toss a handful over a garden salad
- Add to chili and stews for additional protein
- Serve with any recipe that calls for rice or other whole grains
- Make a quinoa “porridge,” serving it with a bit of milk or cream, your favorite fruit, and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup
OTHER Easy Quinoa Recipes
For a tasty, simple quinoa recipe, of my favorites is this Quinoa, Apple and Almond Salad with Honey Lemon Mint Vinaigrette. It’s light and filling, with vibrant flavors and textures. You may also like my Quinoa Granola and Quinoa Energy Bars!
How To Cook Quinoa
- 1 cup white quinoa
- 2 cups water (homemade or low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock may be substituted)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Place quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer, then place the strainer in a bowl. Fill with cold water and soak for 5 minutes.
- Discard the soaking water and thoroughly rinse quinoa under running cold water for 30 seconds. Shake to remove excess water.
- Transfer quinoa to a medium-sized pot and add the water and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the quinoa is fluffy and soft, but not mushy (I recommend tasting a bit to check for doneness). The germ will have spiraled out from each grain. If the quinoa has reached the desired texture before all of the water absorbs, drain any excess water through a fine-mesh strainer.
- Fluff with a fork to separate the grains before serving. Cooked quinoa will keep up to one week in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- To add extra flavor, swap out water for chicken or vegetable broth, plus ½ teaspoon of salt per cup of dry quinoa. You can also add fresh herbs, aromatic spices, or even crushed garlic for a burst of flavor.
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
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