The How-To Guide: Cook Perfect Quinoa

March 12, 2013 | By | Comments (18)
Heirlooms & Avocados Quinoa Salad | Photo by Randy Mayor and Mandie Mills

Heirlooms & Avocados Quinoa Salad | Photo by Randy Mayor and Mandie Mills

Quinoa is hot. The gluten-free, protein-packed whole grain remains one of the most popular ingredients on our web site and Pinterest boards. Month after month, you guys light up the search fields, looking for our best tips on cooking with quinoa.

So how do you cook quinoa [KEEN-wa]? It’s not quite like pasta where you boil water, cook pasta to al dente, and then drain. No, quinoa is more like rice–add the right ratio of water to grains and let the grains absorb it all slowly over low heat. But what is the right ratio? It’s a discussion we’ve had around the tasting table many times, especially in recent weeks as we’re working on several new quinoa recipes.

Conventional wisdom suggests a simple 2-to-1 ratio. However, we think that leaves grains a bit soggy and watered down. In her book “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals,” (which we chose as one of the best cookbooks of the past 25 years) Maria Speck calls for a 1 3/4-to-1 ratio. We tried that and thought it was still a bit damp, but it was getting closer to ideal.

The sweet spot: 1 1/2-to-1. That’s 1 1/2 cups of water to every 1 cup of quinoa.

Here’s how you cook perfect quinoa:

1. Thoroughly rinse your quinoa under cold water, and drain it in a fine-mesh sieve. Better yet, let the quinoa soak for about 15 minutes in cold water, then drain the grains through a fine-mesh sieve. Quinoa has a natural protective coating called saponin. If you don’t rinse it well, the quinoa will be bitter because of this coating. Much of the quinoa sold in the United States is pre-rinsed. If the box or bin does not say the quinoa is pre-rinsed, assume it’s not and rinse it anyway. An extra rinse or soak won’t hurt the quinoa or affect the cooking process.

2. Combine 1 1/2 cups water and the rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. You’ll know the quinoa is finished cooking when it appears as if each grain has “popped” open. Remove from heat; fluff with a fork.
Yield: About 3 cups.

For a tasty change, try cooking your quinoa in unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson) instead of water. The stock imparts a lot of flavor to the quinoa without big nutritional changes.

Last year, we tasted several different brands of boxed quinoa for our Taste Test Awards. See our winner and runner-up here. Plus, find a collection of 15 quinoa recipes.

Have your own tips for cooking or flavoring quinoa? Share them in the comments. We’d love to hear!


  1. Today’s Special: Marco Canora’s Quinoa Salad with Salmon | Cooking Light

    […] Cook Perfect Quinoa […]

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  2. How To Cook Quinoa Like Pasta | Top 10 Amazing

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  10. Anne Chalupa

    I’ve had good success using the microwave, same as I cook basmati rice. Use 1-1/2 liquid to 1 quinoa, & cook 15-20 minutes on 50% power. Check after 10-12 minutes to be sure there is enough liquid, in case your microwave is more powerful.

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    Thanks for the article on cooking the perfect quinoa. I’ve also tossed the rinsed quinoa in a hot pot until it pops a few times and then poured in the liquid; works well every time.

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  15. Quinoa | Bite into Nutrition

    […] Packaged quinoa has likely been pre-soaked, but be sure to read the directions before cooking. Cooking Light offers a good “how-to” guide to cooking quinoa. One of the simplest ways to have it is […]

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  18. Anne

    I use Progresso’s Tuscany Chicken Broth- nice herbal flavors…then I cook it kind of like risotto. Start out at about 50-50, then just keep adding a bit as it is absorbed until you get the consistency you like..

    April 3, 2013 at 11:56 am

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