How to cook perfectly light and fluffy quinoa every time

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How to cook perfectly light and fluffy quinoa every time
A building block grain that's high in protein and amino acids, you can use quinoa in a variety of dishes. Westend61/Getty Images
  • Quinoa is typically cooked on a stovetop, but you can also use a rice cooker of Instant Pot.
  • As a general rule of thumb, for every cup of raw quinoa, use two cups of water.
  • To make quinoa taste even better, consider toasting it before boiling it, or using broth or stock instead of water.

A gluten-free grain with a history that dates back 5000 years, it's easy to find quinoa these days. Its versatility, sweet and nutty flavor, and nutritional benefits make it an easy go-to pantry staple.

According Diego Muñoz, chef de cuisine of Popular at the Public Hotel in NYC, quinoa has a "high content of protein and amino acids and has no gluten and very little sugar content, which makes it one of the most nutritious grains on the planet."

Like rice, couscous, and other grains, quinoa doesn't involve much effort to cook. But perfectly fluffy quinoa takes a little know-how. Below, Muñoz and chef/author Amy Riolo of the Casa Italiana School share some of their best bits of quinoa-making advice.

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Types of quinoa

How to cook perfectly light and fluffy quinoa every time
The most common quinoa colors are white, red, and black. FotografiaBasica/Getty Images

If you've shopped for quinoa, you've likely noticed that this grain comes in a few different colors.

The most common colors of quinoa are white, black, and red, with white being the softest and fastest to cook.

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Muñoz says that red is harder than the rest and will take a bit longer to cook, with black following closely after, since both colors have a higher protein content and less fat. Red and black quinoa has a chewier texture, perfect for cold dishes like salads.

Quinoa-to-water ratio

As a general rule of thumb, use twice as much water as quinoa. The idea ratio for quinoa to water is 1:2, meaning for every one cup of quinoa, use two cups of water. One cup of raw quinoa yields three cups of cooked quinoa.

However, you may want to experiment with the water ratio depending on what you're making.

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"If I want it creamy, such as a hot cereal or a risotto, I will add an extra 1/4 cup of liquid," says Riolo, adding "if I want it dryer - perhaps it is going to be sauced or put in a soup - then I would do a 1:1.75 ratio."

Generally speaking, there's room for flexibility on both your ratio and the amount of time you cook the quinoa (red and black quinoa can take a little bit longer to cook through than white quinoa), so feel free to play around and figure out which ratio suits your taste.

Do you have to rinse quinoa?

Although many store-bought bags of quinoa include "pre-rinsed" on their packaging, Muñoz urges to give your quinoa another rinse with fresh water.

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Muñoz explains that quinoa naturally produces an outer layer of saponin, a compound that "leaves you with a bit of a bitter taste." Taking some time to thoroughly rinse the quinoa will remove the saponin and prevent its bitterness from affecting the flavor of your dish.

To rinse quinoa, place it in a fine-mesh strainer and run it under cold water for five minutes.

How to cook quinoa on the stove

How to cook perfectly light and fluffy quinoa every time
You'll want to rinse your quinoa before cooking to ensure it won't taste too bitter. Jan Mach/Getty Images

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  1. Rinse the quinoa. Put the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold water for five minutes.
  2. Boil and salt water. Start by pouring your water into a saucepan and bringing it to a boil. Once the water reaches a boil, you can add salt if you like.
  3. Add the rinsed quinoa and lower the heat. Stir and reduce the heat to low simmer.
  4. Cover and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Let the quinoa simmer until the water is fully absorbed. Riolo says that this should take about 10-15 minutes, depending on the type of quinoa used.
  5. Take the quinoa off the heat. Let the covered pan sit for five minutes. This allows the last bits of water to absorb.
  6. Fluff and serve. Run a fork through the cooked quinoa to "fluff" it up, then use the quinoa while still warm or let it fully cool in order to use it for salads.

How to cook quinoa in an Instant Pot

Stovetop cooking may be the most expected way to cook quinoa, but it's not your only option. In an Instant Pot, add rinsed and drained quinoa and water or broth at a 1:1.75 ratio (1 cup quinoa to 1.75 cups water) , then cook at high pressure for a minute. Then, use natural release to steam the quinoa for about 10 more minutes, until the Instant Pot's float valve drops. Then, fluff and serve.

How to cook quinoa in a rice cooker

To make quinoa in a rice cooker, rinse and drain the quinoa, then add it to the rice cooker at a 1:1.75 ratio with a pinch of salt. Close the lid and turn on the rice cooker. When the rice cooker automatically turns off (this can take up to 30 minutes, but check on it in the meantime; once the water is absorbed, you're good to go), let the quinoa steam in the covered cooker for a few more minutes, then serve.

Tips for cooking quinoa

How to cook perfectly light and fluffy quinoa every time
You can use your quinoa in soups, for a pilaf, or serve it as a bowl with veggies. Enrique Díaz / 7cero/Getty Images

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  • Toast the quinoa for extra flavor. Riolo recommends toasting your uncooked quinoa in olive oil before you begin cooking it to give the dish a warm, comforting layer of flavor.
  • Cook it in broth or stock. Another easy way to give your quinoa more flavor is to replace the boiling water with chicken or vegetable stock. This will infuse the cooked quinoa with the taste of the stock.
  • Make it in big batches. Quinoa is great for meal-planning as a nutritious addition to salads and may other dishes, from veggie bowls to hearty soups.

How to store cooked quinoa

As long as you keep your quinoa refrigerated in a tightly-sealed container, this cooked grain will isn't difficult to keep fresh. Riolo says that "quinoa can last for up to 7 days" in the fridge, but she also warns that "the texture is best within the first 2-3 days."

Insider's takeaway

Quinoa serves as a great addition to your mealtime grain rotation, especially because it's as healthy as it is satisfying. It's quick and simple to cook, it's easy to store, and it pairs with just about any protein or vegetable you can imagine.

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