What Is Quinoa?

These days, ordering a “bowl” as a lunch option is pretty standard. It comes with some grain like rice, a protein option, some vegetables, maybe some cheese or other add ons. But it was not always so! In my youth, you basically only had the options of salad or sandwich. In such a binary world, I never encountered quinoa, a grain (or grain like substance; we’ll get into it in a second) that I very much associate with the rise of the bowls. To be clear: I’m a fan of this trend. Bowls can be heartier than salads but healthier than sandwiches. But despite chowing down on it frequently myself, I’m not sure I ever quite knew what quinoa actually was. So what is quinoa?  What does quinoa taste like? Is quinoa a grain? Let’s quickly quash this quantity of quarrelsome quinoa questions without qualm. 

What is quinoa?

Quinoa is a pseudocereal originally from the Andes whose seeds are edible and rich in nutrients. Originally cultivated for feeding livestock, it is now produced for human consumption in over 70 countries. 

How to pronounce quinoa correctly?

In English, there are relatively few words that begin with “Q” so we sometimes don’t quite know how to pronounce them when we come across them. Quinoa is certainly such a word, but its pronunciation is actually quite simple. It’s pronounced “keen-wa.” 

Is quinoa a grain?

It’s easy to understand why one would think that quinoa is a grain. It looks similar to grains such as rice and semolina, it’s a rich source of plant protein and fiber, and it is often classified as a whole grain. And yet, in truth, quinoa is not a grain. It is known as a pseudocereal and is in fact related to amaranth and spinach. 

Is quinoa gluten free?

Yes! One of the great things about quinoa is that it is a gluten-free grain (or, rather, pseudocereal), so if you have a gluten allergy or aversion, you can eat as much quinoa as you want.

What does quinoa taste like?

Quinoa has an earthy, nutty flavor that’s sort of like brown rice, although with a chewier texture. Because of its relatively mild flavor profile, quinoa pairs well with a wide variety of ingredients to make up delicious dishes. 

Where does quinoa come from?

The quinoa on your plate comes from the flowering seed of the quinoa plant. And the quinoa plant is now cultivated widely throughout the world, so your particular quinoa could have come from a lot of places. But if your question is where quinoa came from originally, the answer is the Andes region of South America. It was most likely first grown as a crop for animals, but it eventually became cultivated for human consumption. 

How to use quinoa?

Perhaps because of how nutrient-rich it is, quinoa has a reputation as a somewhat stodgy health food. But really, it’s a versatile plant that can be a part of many types of cuisines. The Modern Proper has a list of 30 great quinoa dishes, everything from salads to soups to vegetarian burgers. One that looks particularly appealing is the Quinoa Salmon Bake, which combines quinoa with salmon, veggies, tomatoes, and black beans. And, of course, you can always just make a “bowl.”

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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