What is Quinoa?

dry-quinoaQinoa, sometimes called a whole grain, is actually the seed of a green leafy plant that is still cultivated in South America. Revered by the ancient aztecs as a source of energy for their fearless warriors, chefs and home cooks now admire it for its mild taste and creamy texture.

If you’ve ever tasted quinoa, you know it’s delicious. But what’s so special about quinoa when it comes to health? Quinoa is…

  • a complete protein, and has all 9 essential amino acids, great for a vegetarian diet.
  • very high in manganese that helps keep bones strong and healthy and maintain normal blood sugar levels.
  • high in fiber and contains niacin, both of which have been proven to lower and control high cholesterol.
  • easy to prepare, and can be used in any recipe or meal that calls for white rice.
  • gluten-free and easy to digest.

Apart from the health benefits already mentioned, quinoa happens to have a low glycemic index compared to other whole grains. The glycemic index – or GI – rates food based on how much they make your blood sugar rise. Keeping your blood sugar steady and balanced can help you to maintain weight and improve cholesterol – that’s why whole unprocessed foods that are low in sugar and high in fiber (like whole grains) are touted for their health benefits. Calorie-wise, quinoa comes in about 50 calories less per serving compared to brown rice.

How to Enjoy Quinoa

Cooking quinoa is as easy as cooking rice, only faster. Rinse it first, under cold water to help remove a natural compound that can make it bitter. Some brands of quinoa are “pre-washed” so check the label before rinsing.

Quinoa RisottoQuinoa is the perfect breakfast food – sugar free, low in fat, high in fiber and cooks in 15 minutes. Cook according to the package instructions and just add a teaspoon of grassfed butter or olive oil, a tablespoon of slivered almonds, and a sprinkle of cinnamon for a filling, healthy start into the day. Since quinoa is high in iron, stirring in chopped spinach and making a Quinoa Risotto can be an iron-rich meal for a vegetarian.

Mushrooms add rich flavor to creamy quinoa and they both happen to be high in niacin. Niacin improves immune system function and in larger doses has been studied to improve lipid levels by the pharmaceutical industry.

Just 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa can deliver 25% of the niacin you need per day and since it cooks quickly, it makes a fast dish without much work. Just sautee a cup of sliced mushrooms in a little olive oil and mix into pre-cooked quinoa.

Want to get your kids to try something new while adding mineral-rich grains to their diet? Try quinoa crusted chicken fingers. Grown-ups love them too so make double and make it a family meal!



Nutrition Sources

First posted October 2008


  1. Hi Skinny Chef!

    What a great article on quinoa! Seems your research covered all the best about quinoa. It really is an amazing grain – especially being vegetarian. Ever since I started cooking with it, I really don’t know how I lived all these years without this amazing grain.

    And what is even more so is that a lot of people in society still do not know about this grain, so it is great to put out and article like this to introduce as many as possible to quinoa and its great benefits!

  2. If you have a rice cooker it is even easier; you just put it in your rice cooker the night before and set the timer. You wake up to perfectly cooked quinoa every time.

  3. Try adding smoked tofu and black olives to quinoa that has a nice stock through it…delicious

  4. I really appreciate all the good info. on this grain, I am going to try and find some today and start using it instead of rice. Thank you.

  5. I’m glad I found your article. Thanks! I just bought a big bag from Costco. Checking out the label, my only concern is how high the carbs are!

    Should I be concerned??


  6. Hi Diana, since I just noticed your question, I will take the chance to jump in and offer an answer. The carbohydrate content on nutritional labels really should never worry us. We need carbohydrates – this is your body’s most basic fuel to run your body on.

    So when we get our carbs from all natural, wholesome sources like quinoa, this is no problem at all. The problem is when we get our carbohydrates from chips, cakes, cookies, crackers, white bread, pasta, etc. etc… basically processed foods with loads of refined grains and/or sugars.

    It is not the carbs that are a problem, but the source of those carbs. And there is no magic number that makes carbs be bad or good, it always comes down to what form those carbs are coming into your body in. And in the case of quinoa it is as complex carbs which our bodies do best with, not to mention that quinoa is first and foremost a seed, not a grain – so compared to brown rice, barley, wheat or other grains, it has some of the lowest carb amounts.

    Hope this helps 🙂

  7. Thanks for the great article. Just heard of this the other day and picked some up. Going to try out tonight.

  8. Johnny S says

    I love quinoa and mix it with cayenne pepper as well as the corn salsa from Trader Joes. My kids enjoy quiona salad with balsamic vinegrette, dijon mustard, cucumbumbers and tomatoes. It really is an amazing food and you can’t beat the price at Costco. 4# of orangic quinoa from Bolivia for under $10. Great article, thoroughly enjoyed it!

  9. Lynn Tremblay says

    Here is a recipe for Quinoa that I make all the time. Everyone that has tried it, thought it was Excellent.

    Quinoa Almond Salad


    1 cup (250 mL) uncooked quinoa, rinsed
    2 cups (500 mL) water
    1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
    1/2 cup (125 mL) coarsely shredded carrot (about 1 small)
    1/4 cup (50 mL) sliced almonds, toasted
    1/4 cup (50 mL) dried cherries or cranberries

    Balsamic Vinaigrette
    2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh parsley
    2 tbsp (30 mL) canola or soybean oil
    2 tbsp (30 mL) balsamic vinegar
    1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
    Dash of pepper


    Heat quinoa, water and salt to boiling in 2-quart saucepan, stirring once or twice; reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 12 to 15 minutes or until tender.
    • Remove saucepan from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Fluff quinoa with fork; cool 15 minutes.
    • In small bowl, beat all vinaigrette ingredients with whisk.
    • Mix vinaigrette, quinoa and remaining salad ingredients in large bowl. Serve warm, or cover and refrigerate about 4 hours or until chilled.

    How-To: To toast nuts, bake uncovered in ungreased shallow pan in 350F degree oven about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Or cook in ungreased heavy skillet over medium-low heat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently until browning begins, then stirring constantly until golden brown.
    Health Note : Adding toasted nuts to grains, such as quinoa, really brings out the flavour. Quinoa is higher in unsaturated (good) fats and lower in carbohydrates than most grains and is considered a complete protein, so there are many reasons to include it in a heart-healthy diet.


    • 1 Serving: Calories 200; ( Calories from Fat 80 ); Total Fat 9g ( Saturated Fat 1/2g , Trans Fat 0g ) ; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 400mg; Total Carbohydrate 26g ( Dietary Fiber 3g , Sugars 6g ); Protein 5g

  10. Dida Abbs says

    Hello everyone!

    I’m new to quinoa ; but skimming through such rave reviews, I’m rather keen now on starting to incorporate the stuff into my eating habits.
    Fingers and toes crossed that I’ll love this as y’all seem to!

  11. Where can you buy it?

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