Quinoa is the darling whole grain of foodies everywhere, and for great reason! It’s packed full of nutty flavor and nutrition, and it’s a breeze to cook. It’s also super versatile (side dishes, soups, salads, oh my!) and easy to find—grab it at any of your local supermarkets.
While quinoa isn’t technically a grain (it’s considered a pseudograin because it’s actually a seed), we still love it here at Wholefully! Knowing how to cook perfectly fluffy quinoa every time should be a staple skill in your nourishing kitchen, and we’re here to teach you how.
What is quinoa?
Quinoa is a seed that is often used like a grain (which is why it is often referred to as a “pseudo-grain”). It can be cooked and used in many of the same ways you’d use grains like rice or barley—use it as a side dish, as the base for grain salads, or to bulk up soups.
Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and is considered a complete protein. Which means it has all the essential amino acids our bodies need in one single food. Most sources of complete protein are animal proteins—meat, dairy, and eggs—but quinoa is one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein. In addition to giving your body the essential amino acids it needs to thrive, quinoa is also a good source of fiber, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, and iron.
Which color quinoa should I use?
Quinoa comes in a range of colors, and they all taste relatively similar. When you’re learning how to cook quinoa, don’t let the color of the grain throw you for a loop. No matter which you choose, you’ll end up with delicious, soft, fluffy grains!
There are slight variations in the cooking time between the different types of quinoa, but they are minor—only a minute or two separate white quinoa from tricolor, black, or red quinoa.
Do you need to pre-rinse quinoa?
Not necessarily. Rinsing your quinoa removes the saponins that naturally coat quinoa. These saponins can be bitter, so many people prefer to rinse their quinoa for a milder flavor.
I love quinoa’s nutty, earthy taste and don’t mind the slight bitterness, especially when I’m cooking a savory dish. So I don’t always pre-rinse.
However, this one is up to you, so let your taste buds decide. Some packages come labeled as “pre-rinsed,” so you can skip this step because they’ve already done the hard work for you!
If you decide to rinse your quinoa, place it in a large pot and cover it with water. Swish the quinoa around to dislodge any debris, then drain over a fine mesh strainer.
Should I cook my quinoa on the stove or in the oven?
Both versions have their advantages, so it’s a matter of personal preference. Whichever method you choose, you’re guaranteed to end up with fluffy, perfect quinoa every time!
Stovetop quinoa only takes 15 minutes to make. This is the way to go if you have a recipe that requires cooked quinoa and don’t already have some on hand.
Cooking quinoa in the oven takes longer—roughly 35 minutes—but the advantage to using the oven is you can cook up a whole bunch at once. This is the best option if you’re looking to meal prep and freeze your quinoa for later.
How to cook quinoa in the oven
Most people who learn how to cook quinoa were taught to use the stovetop method. However, oven quinoa is the fluffiest, softest quinoa you’ll ever make—and it’s almost entirely hands-off. It’s also super easy to learn how to cook quinoa in the oven.
I’ve found that three cups of dry quinoa is about the max for a 9×12 baking dish.
- Measure your quinoa and add it to your baking dish. If your recipe calls for cooked quinoa, you can estimate the amount of dry quinoa you’ll need by remembering that for each cup of dried quinoa, you get approximately three cups of the cooked stuff.
- Pour in your liquid. There’s no need to stir; just pour it in. For each cup of dry quinoa, you’ll need two cups of liquid. You can use veggie broth, chicken broth, or even plain water. Quinoa will soak up the flavors of whichever liquid it is cooked in, so match the flavors based on the dish you’re serving it with.
- Wrap the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. We’re looking to create a glorious sauna for the quinoa—the same way the pot lid works on the stove—so really cinch the foil around the edges.
- Bake for 25 minutes in a 375°F oven. Be careful when carrying your dish to the oven—especially if you have a big batch—it can get pretty sloshy!
- Remove from the oven and allow it to sit. Don’t touch it! Just let it rest and steam for five to ten minutes.
- Remove the foil and fluff your grains with a fork.
What did I tell you? Perfect, fluffy quinoa!
You can also add other flavorings like herbs, spices, butter, or salt. I like to keep my quinoa pretty plain, so it’s nice and versatile. I can always add salt in later, but I can’t take it out!
How to cook quinoa on the stove
Cooking quinoa on the stove is just as easy as cooking it in the oven.
- Measure out the quinoa. Remember that one cup of dry quinoa will give you roughly three cups of cooked quinoa.
- Pour in the liquid. You’ll want to stick to a ratio of 2 parts liquid to 1 part quinoa, or two cups of fluid for every cup of grain. You can use vegetable broth, chicken broth, or water.
- Cover the pot with the lid and bring to a boil over medium heat. This should take four to five minutes, depending on your stove.
- Reduce heat to low and let your quinoa simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. How long it’ll take depends on the color of quinoa you used. White quinoa is usually done in 15 minutes, red and tricolor quinoa takes 18 minutes, and black quinoa takes 20 minutes.
- Allow your quinoa to rest for ten minutes with the lid on.
- Fluff with a fork when you’re ready to serve.
A tight-fitting lid is the key to tasty, fluffy quinoa. Once that lid is on, don’t take it off to peek, stir, or even sniff your quinoa! You need that tight seal to allow your quinoa to absorb as much water as it can so it becomes super fluffy.
Can you freeze quinoa?
Absolutely! Cooked quinoa is easy to freeze. To do so, let it cool completely. Then, scoop into zip-top freezer bags and label with the contents and amount of quinoa. After you’ve portioned out your servings, flatten the pack and get as much air out as possible. Freeze flat—this makes it easier to store once frozen solid. Frozen quinoa is good for up to six months in the freezer.
How do you thaw and reheat cooked quinoa?
The rare times I’m on top of things, I take a bag out of the freezer the night before I use it and let it defrost in the fridge. You could also take it out a few hours before cooking and let it warm up on the counter, or you could toss it in the microwave in 30-second bursts until it’s thawed.
When making my Greek quinoa salad or quinoa and cauliflower power bowls, the quinoa doesn’t have to be warm; room temperature is fine. If you do want to heat it up, place the defrosted quinoa in a saucepan with a lid—so it doesn’t dry out—and cook it on low until it’s just warm. You could also spread it out on a baking sheet and warm it in your toaster oven for a few minutes. Again, you could nuke it too.
If you’re going to add it to another dish like my quinoa stuffed bell peppers, you can skip the reheating stage and just use it as directed in the recipe. It will warm up as the dish cooks!
Looking for some great quinoa recipes?
Now that you have your quinoa, what should you do with it? Here are some of our favorite uses: