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How to cook quinoa

Lynn Wright / 28 March 2015

Delicious, easy to cook and super healthy, quinoa is a great alternative to rice or pasta. Here's how to cook the perfect light and fluffy quinoa.

Cooked quinoa
Quinoa can make a great alternative to rice or pasta

What is quinoa?

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been a mainstay of South American cooking since the time of the Incas. Technically, quinoa is a plant seed, not a grain – although it can be used in the same way as other grains such as rice, barley or oats.

Its popularity has grown in recent years as more people discover its sweet, nutty taste and health benefits.

Deemed a superfood, quinoa is incredibly nutritious. Packed with vitamins, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc and full of dietary fibre, it contains all the necessary amino acids to class it a complete protein. Quinoa is gluten-free with a low glycemic index, making it a great choice for those wanting to manage their weight.

Quinoa can be cooked like rice. It needs to be rinsed well first to remove the soapy, bitter coating on the seeds. Packaged quinoa sold in the supermarkets will often be pre-washed but it’s best to rinse it again to be sure.

Quick to cook, light and delicate in taste, quinoa makes a great side dish for most main meals. Or try it in a casserole, salad and even as a porridge for breakfast.

Visit our quinoa recipe hub for lots of delicious ways of serving quinoa

How to cook quinoa

Quinoa should be cooked using the same liquid to grain ratio as rice: 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water.

1. Rinse the quinoa thoroughly in a fine mesh sieve under cold running water.

2. Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan, then add the quinoa. Add a pinch of salt to the water.

3. Reduce the heat to low, cover the saucepan and let the quinoa gently simmer for 20 minutes until most of the water has been absorbed.

4. Remove the saucepan from the heat, drain off any excess water and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

5. Fluff the quinoa with a fork to separate the grains, and then serve.


To add more depth of flavour, try toasting your quinoa after rinsing and before cooking. Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, and add the drained quinoa. Stir the quinoa for a minute or two until it’s slightly brown. Then add boiling water and cook as above.

British quinoa

Perhaps surprisingly, quinoa can be grown in the UK and Essex-grown quinoa is easily available from health food shops and online from British pulse and grain producer Hodmedod's. This is an excellent alternative for anyone concerned about food miles or sustainability and the welfare of South American farmers

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.