Forbes calls it the “Supergrain of The Future” and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FOA) dedicated the entire year to it (2013 is literally “International Year of the Quinoa”). You know it’s trendy, you know it’s healthy, but you have no clue what the F it really is (a grain? a protein? rice? pasta?!) … or how to pronounce it.

  • What: Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WAH) translates into “the mother grain” in the Incan language. It’s a grain-like crop with endless uses: the seeds (what we typically think of as quinoa) are a highly nutritional “superfood” that can be enjoyed on their own, used to make cereal, flour, soup and even alcohol! The leaves can be used for medical purposes, like treating wounds, pain and swelling.
  • Where: Grown in South America, specifically in Chile, Peru and Bolivia, quinoa has been a major food source for people of the Andes Mountains for over 5,000 years.
  • Nutritional info: There’s a reason quinoa is so hyped — it’s FILLED with nutrients. Not only is it packed with fiber (12 grams per 1 cup serving, over 4x the fiber in a cup of brown rice) and protein (24 grams per serving, 4x the protein in an egg), but it’s also a great source of vitamin E, folate, B vitamins, zinc, potassium phosphorous, magnesium, iron, calcium and antioxidants. The best part? It’s low in sodium, fat (cholesterol free!) and calories: 1 cup only has 222 calories and 4 grams of fat.
  • White vs. red: Purchasing quinoa can  be confusing because there’s over 1,800 varieties. Personally, I think white quinoa is the way to go: it’s fewer in calories and has twice the fiber as red. If you’re looking for something a little sweeter, choose red.

When it’s time to cook it, follow these guidelines:
1. Measure out 1 cup dry quinoa to make 3 cups cooked (economical!).

Photo by Alexandra Hayes

2. In a strainer, rinse quinoa in cold water to get rid of the bitter taste. Let dry for 3-4 minutes.

Photo by Alexandra Hayes

3. Before adding liquid and boiling, heat quinoa in a pan for 4-5 minutes. This evaporates the remaining water left in quinoa after rinsing and gives it a better texture, flavor and smell by warming its natural oils. Note: It’s a myth that quinoa can only be cooked in water. For more flavorful, fluffy quinoa replace water with chicken or vegetable broth.

4. Measure out liquid (2 cups per 1 cup quinoa) and bring to a boil in a big pot.

Photo by Alexandra Hayes

5. When liquid is boiling, turn down heat to a simmer, add quinoa, cover and cook for 15-20 mins until all liquid has evaporated and quinoa is fluffy and tender.