How to cook quinoa

Quinoa recipes

How to cook quinoa

by Great British Chefs29 September 2023

The popularity of quinoa has skyrocketed, going from near obscurity to ubiquity in less than ten years. Read on for everything you need to know about how to cook perfect quinoa.

How to cook quinoa


The popularity of quinoa has skyrocketed, going from near obscurity to ubiquity in less than ten years. Read on for everything you need to know about how to cook perfect quinoa.

Quinoa has a firm, slightly chewy texture and a nutty, vaguely oaty flavour. Its flavour isn’t very strong – it’s about as flavourful as couscous – but has gained popularity as a nutrient-dense and gluten-free side dish.

What goes well with quinoa?

The mild taste of quinoa means it can easily be used in the place of rice as a side dish or mixed into, or sprinkled on top of salad. For more quinoa salad recipe ideas, check out our quinoa salad collection. For a healthy breakfast, it can also be mixed into granola or cooked with milk as a porridge.

What can you make with quinoa?

Quinoa is remarkably versatile – you can use it in the place of rice, couscous and lentils; it can replace potato in fishcakes or other savoury patties; it can be mixed into stews, soups, stir-fries, curries, tagines and salads. Quinoa flour is also common in gluten-free cakes and cookies. You can use it in sweet dishes like Deena Kakaya's coconutty quinoa porridge or as a savoury side dish, like Thomasina Miers' red quinoa salad.

Is quinoa high protein?

While quinoa is often cited as a good source of protein, quinoa only has a fairly modest 3.5g protein per 100g. In comparison, cooked white rice has 2.7g protein per 100g and cooked bulgur wheat has 3.9g per 100g. This also makes quinoa quite an expensive protein source – 10g of protein from quinoa will cost about 77p. If you’re not gluten-free and looking for a more affordable high protein grain, bulgur wheat is a good option.

Is quinoa gluten free?

Quinoa is gluten-free, and unlike oats it isn’t typically processed in the same factory as wheat, and so is generally a safe choice for those avoiding gluten.

Is quinoa a grain?

You may occasionally read that quinoa ‘isn’t a grain it’s a seed’! But grains, like barley, wheat, oats and rice, are also seeds. However, where quinoa stands out from more common grains is that it isn’t a seed from a cereal. Instead, it’s a type of pseudocereal (also confusingly called ‘pseudograins’) in the same family as amaranth. Buckwheat is also a pseudocereal.

Where does quinoa come from?

Quinoa originates in the Andes, and the majority of quinoa is still grown in Bolivia and Peru, although there are a few farms now growing it in the UK. The popularity of quinoa overseas has driven the price up domestically, which means this traditional food has become unaffordable for some Peruvian and Bolivian families. Instead, cheap but less nutrient-dense foods – like instant noodles and white rice – have taken its place.

What is the difference between red, white and black quinoa?

White is most common colour of quinoa. White quinoa is slightly fluffier and more delicate-tasting than its red and black cousins, which are a little crunchier and have a very slightly stronger flavour. Tricolour quinoa (white quinoa with some red and black quinoa mixed in) is also popular, and all three colours can be cooked the same.

How to cook quinoa

For such a simple activity, cooking quinoa causes a lot of debate. Should you cook it with the lid on or off? What is the exact right ratio of quinoa to water? How long does it need to steam for off the heat? Pretty much all methods of cooking quinoa will work, but the exact amount of water you add and whether or not you leave the lid on will affect the texture of the quinoa. Cooking it in the microwave can make it quite water logged, so it needs a longer steaming time, whereas cooking it in the rice cooker using a 1:1 ratio of quinoa to water produces quite a dry texture.

After testing lots of different methods of cooking quinoa, surprisingly we found that cooking quinoa in a pot like pasta (Claire Saffitz’s preferred method) produced the best result. Cooked in plenty of salted water and then drained and steamed, our quinoa had that much sought-after pleasant ‘pop’, and wasn’t at all pappy or dry. This method also has the benefit of working with any quantity of quinoa, in any size pan and also makes seasoning the quinoa perfectly very easy. So whether you’re cooking just for one, or making a batch of quinoa for a crowd, this easy recipe will do the trick.





Bring a pot of salted water to the boil


Wash the quinoa well to remove any bitterness, then add the quinoa to the boiling water and cook for 12 minutes


After 12 minutes, taste the quinoa. If it’s still slightly underdone, cook for another 3 minutes or so


Once tender, drain the quinoa thoroughly in a fine mesh strainer and return to the saucepan


Cover the pan with a lid, and allow the quinoa to steam for around 15 minutes, then serve


Leftover quinoa will keep in the fridge for 5–6 days

How do you cook quinoa in a rice cooker?

Quinoa can be cooked in a rice cooker just like rice, although this does produce a drier less fluffy quinoa. Simply rinse the quinoa several times as you would rice, and then fill up the water to the appropriate line (e.g. the 1 if cooking one rice cooker cup of quinoa). Cook the quinoa on the white rice setting.

If prefer a slightly looser texture to your quinoa, add water until it reaches the 1.5 line for 1 cup of quinoa instead.

How do you cook quinoa in the microwave?

Cooking quinoa in the microwave can be done but is slightly tricky - the exact amount of water you need will depend on how much quinoa you cook, the power of your microwave and the size of the container. And, since it’s difficult to check on the quinoa as it cooks, it’s hard to adjust timings on the fly.

As a rough starting point, add 1.5 cups of water for every 1 cup of quinoa. Microwave thoroughly rinsed quinoa in a large covered bowl with the appropriate amount of water and a pinch of salt for 10 minutes at 60–70% power, checking on the quinoa three quarters of the way through cooking to make sure that it isn’t burning or sticking to the bowl.

If there is a lot of water still left in the bowl, drain the quinoa. Let the quinoa steam in the covered bowl for 15 minutes, and then serve.

Why do you wash quinoa?

It’s important to rinse uncooked quinoa well. This is because if it hasn’t been pre-washed it’s coated in a bitter substance called saponin. Some people soak quinoa (pre-washed or not) for 10 minutes prior to cooking, which also helps to remove saponin.

Can you freeze quinoa?

Quinoa freezes very well. Simply place cooled, cooked quinoa in a Tupperware with a label of the date it was cooked and the date it was frozen, and then place in the freezer. It will keep well for 6 months.

To defrost quinoa, either microwave the whole Tupperware with the lid on or let the quinoa defrost overnight in the fridge and then rewarm on the hob.

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