What is quinoa: How do you cook the high-protein, gluten-free food, and how do you pronounce it?

It’s high in protein, gluten-free and incredibly versatile – but what exactly is quinoa, why should you eat it, and how do you cook it?

Even if you have never eaten it, it’s very likely that you’ll have come across quinoa in supermarket or on a restaurant menu. 

So, what exactly is quinoa, why is it good for you, and what can you do with it?

What exactly is quinoa and how do you pronounce it?

Pronounced ‘keen-wah’, the part that we eat is the seeds from the flowering plant chenopodium quinoa, which originated in the Andean regions of South America and has been farmed for food for at least three millennia.

Although it looks similar, and is used as a substitute for, rice and couscous, it’s actually a closer relation of beetroot, chard and spinach. Unprocessed quinoa seeds are naturally bitter, which has the benefit of deterring birds from eating them while they are growing.

Quinoa seeds

Why is quinoa considered healthy?

Firstly, quinoa is a ‘complete protein’, containing all nine amino acids, and has twice the protein content of rice or barley. Additionally, it’s gluten and cholesterol-free, and is a source of calcium, manganese, dietary fibre, iron, zinc and magnesium. It’s also very easy to digest.

How do I cook quinoa?

Quinoa can be prepared much like rice. It might need soaking first – check instructions on the packet – then boil two cups of water for every cup of the seeds, and simmer for 15 minutes.  As the seeds cook, they open up and release small white curls of grain. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for a few minutes, then fluff up with a fork.

How is quinoa eaten?

After cooking, quinoa should be fluffy but still have a slight ‘crunch’ to it. It has a mildly nutty flavour, and can be used as a substitute cereal, in a salad mixed with leaves or vegetables, as a side dish seasoned with salt, pepper and butter or oil, or as a rice-like accompaniment to stews, stir-fries or curries. It can also be utilised in the making of vegetarian burgers, or even as a baking grain to make bread or muffins.