What is Quinoa and What’s the Difference Between White, Red and Black Quinoa?
If you eat only one grain, quinoa is the one to choose (pronounced KEEN-wah). Technically a seed, its germ (the equivalent to the yolk of an egg) is the most power-packed part of any known seed. In most grains, the germ is little more than a speck, but quinoa’s germ completely surrounds the rest of the seed. This helps explain why quinoa contains up to 20% high quality protein.
According to the Whole Grains Council, there are roughly 120 different varieties of quinoa, which is a LOT of quinoa. The three most commonly seen varieties are:
- White quinoa, actually a light tan color, is the most common variety, and makes a wonderful, fluffy pilaf. It cooks up in about 15 minutes.
- Red quinoa, found in most markets, is often used in salads because it holds its shape and color through cooking. It’s more savory than white quinoa, and cooks up in about 20 minutes.
- Black quinoa, the least common of the 3 varieties, has an earthy sweet flavor, and maintains its color through cooking. It cooks up in about 20 minutes, similar to the red quinoa.
- Quinoa flakes and quinoa flour are found in the baking isles of most stores, providing additional ways to use this healthy seed.
What Makes Quinoa So Special?
Quinoa has gone from being a niche health food ingredient to going mainstream as a staple in less than 3 years. There are several reasons for this:
First and foremost, it’s a powerhouse of nutrition. It’s high in B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, and vitamin E. A superfood by any definition.
It’s naturally gluten-free.
Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body, and therefore must come from food.
It cooks up much faster than traditional grains, making it a great last-minute dinner option with roasted vegetables.
Tips For Cooking Perfect Quinoa
The secret of cooking perfect quinoa that doesn’t come out mushy is tied primarily to the amount of water you add to the seed, and if you cook it with the pot covered or not. I’ve cooked hundreds of pots of quinoa, and here are my top tips for getting a fluffy quinoa every time.
Store uncooked quinoa in a cool, dark place, preferably in a glass jar with the lid tightly closed. It can stay fresh for at least 1 year.
Quinoa flour should be sealed in a ziplok or the original packaging, if unopened, and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 months, or up to 1 year in the freezer.
As a general rule, I don’t keep cooked grains in the refrigerator for longer than a 3 – 4 days, and some people cut it off at 2 days. However, quinoa freezes beautifully. To defrost, just throw it in the microwave for a minute, depending on the strength of your microwave.
1 1/4 cups Vegetable Stock or water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 clove garlic, smashed
freshly ground pepper
1 cups quinoa
- Combine all the ingredients except the quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
- While the stock is coming to a boil, place the quinoa in a bowl of cold water to wash it. Gently rub the quinoa between your palms. Using a fine mesh strainer, drain and repeat two more times. Quinoa is coated with bitter natural substance called saponin. Although quinoa has been processed to remove this coating, the grain should still be thoroughly washed.
- Add the quinoa to the boiling stock, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 12 minutes, or until the stock has been absorbed. The grain should be translucent, and its thin germ curlicue white.
- Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.