Quinoa is one of the hottest “ancient” grains* out there, and rightfully so: it has a delightful crunch and a slightly nutty flavor, it only takes 10 minutes to cook, and it boasts one of the most well-rounded protein profiles of the plant world. Oh, and it’s grown in several different colors, from ivory to brown to red. Objectively, I know they all taste the same, but somehow I think the red one tastes best. (As a kid, my favorite M&Ms were the red ones, so I might have a preconceived preference here…)
As you can see from this picture, quinoa makes a great breakfast cereal. If you want it fresh-cooked, you’re only looking at 10 minutes, or you can cook a batch and keep it in the fridge for up to a week, helping yourself to a bowlful whenever you’d like. Quinoa flour is also tasty in everything from breads to pancakes; quinoa pasta makes a nice change from the standard wheat. Plus, it’s a great Scrabble word! (“Q” words always are.)
Lots of people don’t like quinoa, though, and for fair reason: it can be bitter. But what most people don’t know is that it’s possible to get rid of the bitterness. All you have to do is thoroughly rinse the raw quinoa under running cold water, dragging your fingers through it as you rinse to make sure the water gets to every grain. (When rinsing quinoa, pick a colander with a very fine mesh to keep individual grains from falling out!) Rinse several times, until the water coming from the quinoa is running clear rather than frothy. That frothiness is a result of water carrying away the saponin, a natural chemical compound the plant secretes to protect itself from predators. Saponin is also what tastes bitter: rinse away the saponin means rinsing away the bitterness. Clear-running water is an indication that the saponin coating each grain has been fully rinsed away. You can also taste a raw grain or two to make sure you’ve reached a zero-level bitterness.
Some varieties of quinoa naturally produce less saponin than others; some varieties are more thoroughly rinsed before being packaged and shipped to stores. You’ll probably find that the bitterness level of quinoa will vary from box to box, even if you’re buying the same brand. I’ve had quinoa that was downright sweet and quinoa that was decidedly bitter. If you use this rinsing technique, though, you’ll never have to play the “How Bitter Will It Be?” game. Instead, you can focus on figuring out what your favorite color of quinoa (and use for it!) is.
* Just for the record, quinoa is a seed, not a grain, but everyone treats it — and uses it — like a grain, so we’ll go with that idea.
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