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Quinoa with grilled peppers and mintNick Bratanek/unsplash
Guides

Pantry staples: quinoa

Everything you need to know about this versatile South American essential.

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Quinoa has been called a super grain in recent years, but what’s it really all about? Read our pantry staples guide to find out more about quinoa.

Our pantry staples series sees us take a look at the ingredients that most people usually have in their presses – chickpeas, beans, noodles and the like. Today, we’re looking at quinoa.

Quinoa is known as a pseudocereal as it is actually a seed, not a grain. Botanically, quinoa is actually more closely related to spinach than wheat! It is native to South America, particularly Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. The plant was first domesticated by Andeans around 4,000 years ago and it became an important staple in their culture. The Incan tribes believed quinoa to be sacred but this caused Spanish colonists to suppress its cultivation.

Salmon and quinoa bowl. Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash.
Salmon and quinoa bowl. Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash.

Good or bad?

Nowadays, quinoa is wildly popular and can be found all around the world. It has been called a superfood due to its surprisingly dense nutrient content; It is a rich source of protein, fibre, B vitamins, minerals and is also naturally gluten-free. Because of quinoa’s high levels of protein and ease of preparation, NASA has selected it as an experimental food for long-duration space flights.

While quinoa is a great addition to our diets, it is not without controversy. Experts have disputed its impact on farmers’ lives, with some saying it has improved the lives of Peruvian farmers by giving them the resources to improve rural farming communities, whereas others believe that it has caused natives to no longer be able to afford their staple crop, as the majority is now sent overseas for high prices, as well as creating a farming monoculture, that has seriously damaged land. This controversy is widely debated, with no real answer for us to give you. However, we would suggest that you try to buy your quinoa from a reputable source that ensures farmers and land in South America are both treated fairly.

Different types of quinoa. Image by Getty Images.
Different types of quinoa. Image by Getty Images.

How to cook quinoa

Quinoa is surprisingly easy to cook. Firstly, make sure to rinse quinoa well under cold, running water before cooking. This will help to remove saponins, which are a coating found on the seed that can give quinoa a bitter taste.

After this, add the quinoa to a medium or large pot, depending on how much you’re cooking. Add in double the amount of salted water, then bring the pot to aboil. Simmer for around 10-15 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. If serving immediately, fluff up the quinoa with a fork before using. If you want to save it for later use, tip the quinoa into a sieve or fine strainer and rinse under cold water until completely cool, then refrigerate for around three days.

Looking for some recipe inspiration? Read on to find out how we like to eat quinoa.

Peruvian chicken with quinoa tabbouleh from The Three Qs. Image by Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.
Peruvian chicken with quinoa tabbouleh from The Three Qs. Image by Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.