Quinoa - An Ancient Nutritious Grain


About Quinoa

field of quinoa grain

Quinoa, pronounced [keen-WAH] is a seed crop eaten as a grain.  The plant, Chenopodium quinoa, grows in the high elevations of South America.  The little seeds were a principal food crop of the Incas and the Aztecs and in the last many years have become more known in the U.S.

Although the plant is best known for it's edible seeds the greens, related to spinach are as well edible. 


The quinoa fields were harvested by hand for centuries but now machines are used for gathering much of the annual crop.  Once harvested the heads are thrashed to remove the seed.  The seed then is winnowed to remove the husks.  The resulting seed is coated with a bitter layer of saponins which in nature wards off pests and birds.  The seeds must be processed with an alkaline solution that removes the layer and renders the seed edible.  The seed can then be packaged or ground into flour.

Protein Quality And Nutrient Density

Quinoa has the highest amount of protein of any grain crop, about 6 grams in a half cup serving.  Due to the concentration of amino acids the quality of protein is compared to milk.  That half cup serving also nets you 3 grams of dietary fiber and 23mg of potassium.  One of the many benefits of this grain is that it is a gluten-free option for our growing population of people with wheat intolerance.

Quinoa Varieties And Relatives

The most common quinoa found in stores is white but black and red varieites are starting to get better distribution.  Other colors include orange and yellow but tend to be hard to find outside of South America. 

three quinoa varieties

Huazontles - A Close Cousin

There is a variety of quinoa found in Mexico, (Chenopodium berlandieri spp. nuttalliae).  Pronounced [wah-ZONT-lay].  Rather than harvesting the seed, the green heads are battered up and fried.  Read more about huauzontle.

fresh huazontles

Quinoa Uses

The harvested grains are processed and some of the resulting grains are packaged whole and some ground into flour.

Whole Quinoa

Use whole grain quinoa as a side-dish grain or add the cooked grain to salads.  The whole grain can also be used in soups and stews and even baked goods such as muffins or even tortillas.

Quinoa Flour

Naturally gluten-free quinoa flour can be combined with all-purpose flour to increase the nutritional value of the flour.  It can also be used ,partially or completely, to replace all-purpose flour in recipes for cookies and cakes.

Nutrition Information For Quinoa - An Ancient Nutritious Grain

Serving Size
1 cup
Calories from Fat
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 10g
Saturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 9mg
Total Carbohydrate 109g
Dietary Fiber 12g
Sugars 0g
Protein 24g
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Basic Quinoa Preparation


Some quinoa you buy in grocery stores in the U.S. has been sufficiently processed that rinsing may not be required but read the package instructions just to make sure.

Cooks In 10 -15 Minutes

The liquid to grain ratio is 2/1 so if you want to cook a cup of quinoa then you need 2 cups of liquid.  This will yield about 3 cups of cooked grain.  Like many grains you can use different methods for cooking.  You can simply add water and the grain, bring to a boil, turn down and simmer till done (the rice method) or a Pilaf method where you toast the grains in a pan (sometimes with onion) then add liquid, bring to a boil and simmer till done.

The cooking time should be about 10 to 15 minutes.  You know the grain is ready when the little "germ ring" appears around the grain.  For more information about grain cooking times view our Grains Cooking Chart.

close up of cooked quinoa showing rings
cooked quinoa with germ ring showing

Flavoring Additions

Quinoa, without seasoning is pretty bland so recipes tend to include ingredients like onion, chicken or vegetable broth rather than water, and even dried fruit like cranberries or cherries.  Browse our recipes for more suggestions.

Where To Buy

Thankfully quinoa grain and flour are both easy to find.  Many well-stocked grocery stores will have the grain and sometimes the flour.  Most health stores should have both.  There are many "organic" options now too.  Trader Joe's as well as Whole Foods Market typically stock quinoa.

Sources And Credits


Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.