What is Quinoa?

The next topic in my What’s That? series is… Quinoa! I’ve got a few amazing quinoa recipes on the way, and thought it might be nice to first explain the origins and benefits of this genius little grain.

Chances are that you’ve seen this ingredient pop-up everywhere over the past couple years – from recipes to store-bought breads and cereals. If you’re a seasoned vegan/vegetarian or health foodie, then it’s likely that you already use it all the time. But if you’ve been looking to try it for the first time – or just want to know how to pronounce it… well, hopefully the information below can shed a little light.

First things first: it’s pronounced keen-wah. I still catch myself pronouncing it quee-no-ah from time-to-time but I’m getting better at it and I’ve come-up with a handy trick for remembering how to say it: I’m keen for keen-wah! 🙂

Black Quinoa


  • It’s a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds
  • It’s closely related to beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds
  • The grains range in color from white, to red and black
  • The grains are coated with a bitter-tasting saponin coating, which serves as a natural pest deterrent, and which needs to be rinsed-off before using (see below)
  • Unlike wheat and rice, it is high in lysine
  • It’s also a good source of fibre, phosphorous, magnesium, and iron
  • Like oats, it contains a balanced set of essential amino acids, so it’s a complete protein
  • In fact, compared to other grains, it has a very high protein content (12-18%)
  • It’s gluten-free, so it’s a great option for those with Coeliac disease, and it’s considered to be easily digestible
  • Because of all this, NASA has considered quinoa for long-duration manned spaceflights (how cool is that?!)


  • Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America, where humans were farming & eating it 3000 to 4000 years ago (though there is archaeological evidence of its pastoral herding some 5200 to 7000 years ago!)
  • The Incas felt that the crop was sacred and referred to it as “mother of all grains” (I think most vegans would agree!)
  • During the Spanish conquest, the colonists forbade the cultivation of quinoa and forced the Incas to grow wheat instead (how unfortunate!)
Source: Wikipedia

Prep & Cooking

  • If you’re unsure as to whether your quinoa has been rinsed-free of the bitter saponin coating, then it’s important to rinse it in a strainer or cheesecloth for a few minutes under cold water before using
  • To cook it, bring 1 part quinoa and 2 parts water to boil in a saucepan. Reduce to lowest heat setting, COVER, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the germ separates from the seed.
  • You’ll know it’s ready when a tiny curl sticks out from the seed
  • For added flavor in savory dishes, you can cook it in vegetable broth instead of plain water


  • Once cooked, quinoa has a mild nutty flavor and fluffy texture, similar to couscous
  • It can replace couscous or rice in most recipes – so it’s a great for things like stuffed peppers, stuffed squash or pilafs
  • Just like rice or pasta salads, it’s great served cold with veggies/beans and a light dressing
  • Breakfast quinoa is great – treat it as you would oatmeal, by stirring-in maple syrup/nuts/fruit
  • It is also available in the form of quinoa flakes, which can also be used to make  a quinoa breakfast porridge or to boost the protein content of baked goods
  • It can be used to make healthy protein balls/bars (recipes coming soon!)
  • Quinoa flour is a great substitute for flour in gluten-free baking


Here are a few of my favorite quinoa-based recipes:

Quinoa Chili
Quinoa Chili
Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers
Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers
Asian Cashew Quinoa Salad (Vegan and Gluten-Free)
Asian Cashew Quinoa Salad
Refreshing Quinoa Salad with Mango, Cucumber & Avocado
Refreshing Quinoa Salad with Mango, Cucumber & Avocado
Puffed Quinoa Peanut Butter Balls
Puffed Quinoa Peanut Butter Balls
Quinoa Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
Quinoa Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
Spicy Black & White Bean Quinoa Salad
Spicy Quinoa Bean Salad
Quick & Easy Indian Curry Quinoa
Indian Curry Quinoa
Tex-Mex Tomato Quinoa
Tex-Mex Tomato Quinoa

Here’s a full list of all my quinoa recipes

Q: What are your favorite uses for Quinoa?


  1. Nadia 25 May, 2011
    • vegangela 25 May, 2011
  2. Craig 25 May, 2011
  3. Lis 25 May, 2011
    • vegangela 26 May, 2011
  4. karissa 29 December, 2012
  5. Gail Price 27 August, 2016
    • Angela Thompson 8 September, 2016