What Does Quinoa Taste Like – Why Do People Love It?

This mild-mannered food is often underestimated. It has origins in South America, where the Incans revered it as the “mother grain”. Quinoa, which is pronounced “keen-wah”, is a seed that is a great source of protein. This is great news for people on restricted diets, as it is also fibre-rich and gluten-free. However, quinoa can be used to make excellent dishes that appeal to a wide variety of tastes and preferences. What does quinoa taste like? Well, that can be up to you! First, let’s examine the properties of this unique food.

What does quinoa taste like?

On its own, quinoa has an inconspicuous, mild flavor. It has an earthy presence like brown rice, a nutty undertone, and a satisfactory texture. Even when cooked quinoa is slightly crunchy, yet a mouthful of it is fluffy and smooth. 

Overcooking quinoa produces a mushy, tasteless product that is not appealing to eat. The gummy sensation it provides is not one that most people go for in their foods and it does reveal the true potential of quinoa.

Have you ever had bitter quinoa? This is likely because the raw seed was not prepared adequately before cooking. Remember that this is a seed, and birds often eat seeds. As a method of self-defense quinoa has a coating of saponin. This is a bitter tasting substance that birds detest. It turns out that if it is not cleaned off, you will detest the quinoa too! It is easily remedied by rinsing quinoa under cold running water for a minute or so before preparation.

What does quinoa look like?

When you want to know what does quinoa look like, it depends if it is cooked or uncooked.  While rinsing your quinoa, take some time to study the uncooked seeds. Most common varieties of quinoa are small yellowish-white discs. It can also be red, although this is used less often. Look along the edge of the quinoa to see what appears to be a thin tendril that wraps around the seed. 

When you cook quinoa, that tendril is the key to knowing when it is ready. A cooked seed almost pops open, loosening the ring. Within that ring you will have a fluffy, finished kernel that is perfectly done.

What does quinoa smell like?

Raw quinoa has almost no smell at all. You may be surprised if you cook it and are greeted with a strong odor. Some people find it quite offensive. Quinoa should not smell overpowering when being cooked. If it does, it was likely not rinsed properly before cooking. If bitter was a smell, unwashed quinoa would be the poster child. It is difficult to explain what does quinoa smell like any other way. Some people even recommend soaking it to ensure the saponin is thoroughly separated from the seed. 

One issue that seems to arise is that pre-rinsed quinoa is available for purchase in the store. Many people recommend rinsing it again anyway to be on the safe side. Considering that it could cause your quinoa to smell and taste bad, rinsing it again is probably a good idea.

How to Cook Quinoa

Let’s examine how to cook quinoa. One technique that you can start with is putting dry quinoa into a pan and toasting it. You do not rinse it before doing this. Toasting the quinoa activates the flavor. As a result you will likely taste that nutty undertone in a much more satisfying way. You only need to do this for about six minutes, so it adds very little to your preparation time and results in a much more rewarding finished product.

Once it is toasted you can rinse or soak the grain. It is best to use cool running water. Allow it to run through the strainer until the water runs clear. You are not very likely to rinse it too much, so take your time. You definitely want to avoid that bitter taste and bizarre smell from ruining your dinner.

Now you are ready to cook it in some water on the stove. You can follow the directions on the package if you like. As with rice, a certain ratio of seed to water results in a precisely finished dish. What you might not know is that you can cook quinoa like pasta! Add the seeds to a pot of boiling water and wait until the tails pop out, just over ten minutes. Then drain the water off. For more flavor, try putting chicken or beef bouillon in the water. It will infuse the quinoa quite nicely.

One final tip for cooking quinoa is to let it steam in the pot or strainer for fifteen minutes before serving. This puts a finishing touch on the flavor and texture. Afterwards, fluff it with a fork right before you serve it.

Side Dish or Supplement?

The beauty of cooked quinoa is that you can use it in a variety of ways once it is cooked. You can eat it on the side with your main meal. If the other foods you are serving have a lot of flavor, quinoa will provide a nice balance to help cleanse the palate.

It has become popular to add quinoa to salads for a healthy protein and satisfying feeling. It can become its own salad with a bit of bell pepper, cucumber, and a lemony vinegar dressing. This salad is well suited to summer as it is refreshing and crisp, yet light and delicious. Due to its high protein content, vegetarians even use it in dishes such as fajitas. You may find it easy to adapt recipes using quinoa as a protein!


As you develop an appreciation for quinoa, you will start to realize that there is no simple answer to the question, “What does quinoa taste like?” On its own, quinoa is an unassuming seed that quietly accompanies meals with little effect. Once you start experimenting with it, the sky’s the limit!

If you are up to it read my other post on Cream cheese chicken chili and Tuscan chicken mac and cheese recipe.

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