What Is Quinoa? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Thanks to its "super grain" status, people love to cook with quinoa. But what is quinoa—and what makes it so special?

Pronounced KEEN-wah, this ancient food has been around for thousands of years—it was a staple in the diets of the Incas. But lately, quinoa is making a comeback. The UN even named 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa! Everyone seems to swear by this funny-looking food, but some cooks must wonder: Is quinoa that amazing?

What Is Quinoa and How Does It Taste?

It may look like and cook like a grain, but quinoa is actually a seed from the Chenopodium quinoa plant. It belongs to the same plant family that sprouts up chard, beets and spinach. Because quinoa looks and tastes so similar to grains—like a puffier, nuttier couscous—it’s often called a pseudo-cereal.

Looking to boost your diet? Here are a handful of other superfoods to check out.

What Is Quinoa Good For?

You can use quinoa in any dish where you would normally use a grain. Think pastas and casseroles with tons of fiber, pilafs and soups with a protein boost and salads that won’t leave you hungry an hour later. Learning to cook quinoa can be tricky for beginners to get right, but our guide will have you cooking perfect quinoa in no time.

You’ll want to pick up the right kind of quinoa, too. There are over 120 unique kinds of quinoa, but the three you’ll most commonly come across are white, red and black. White quinoa makes an excellent swap for white rice since it has the most delicate texture and taste. Red and black are slightly firmer and nuttier, and better suited for salads.

Start cooking with delicious quinoa bowl recipes!

Is Quinoa Better for You Than Rice?

Absolutely! Quinoa wipes the floor with white rice in terms of nutritional value. Cup by cup, quinoa has double the protein and five grams more protein than white rice. It even bests brown rice in terms of fiber and protein content, with twice the amount of protein and two grams more fiber per cup. The pseudo-cereal is also chock-full of lysine, which promotes healthy tissue growth, as well as iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, fiber and calcium. Whew!

However, quinoa is not a low-calorie food. It’s best to think of quinoa like other nutrient-dense foods that are best enjoyed in smaller portions, like nuts and avocados.

Here’s the secret to making light and fluffy quinoa.

The Quinoa Recipes You Will Absolutely Love
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Maggie Ward
Maggie’s background in the arts gave her a penchant for collaborative communication and the pursuit of conveying ideas in a clear, striking way. Outside of writing for Taste of Home, Maggie loves playing the piano and writing music, as well as performing with various bands and theatre productions around the city of Chicago.