Quinoa Cereal

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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12 Responses to “Taking the Bitterness out of Quinoa”

  1. Thanks for this handy article! Was hating quinoa lately and not sure why it was so bitter. I shall be rinsing. Thanks!

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks for your comment! And yes, I think you’ll like quinoa better if you do some preventative rinsing. You’ll actually be able to see the bitter-tasting saponin rise up and flow off — it’s foamy, like soap. Darn smart of the plant to include it, though, seeing as it’s such a handy way for the plant to keep the bugs at bay.

  2. dc says:

    I have tried various “prewashed” varieties and all are bitter so don’t try them.

  3. hijo says:

    Thanks for the tip! I actually made quinoa first and only then realized that it was very bitter, so following your advice I rinsed it very thoroughly, and voila–it tastes great now. Just like you said, at some point there was a layer of frothy whitish substance on top; after the water ran clear the bitterness was gone. I now can enjoy my healthy crunchy quinoa. Thanks!

    • Lisa says:

      Happy to have been of help! I’m a big quinoa fan and like to spread the word about how to make it even tastier. If you’re ever in the mood for a quick quinoa cake, try stirring some cooked quinoa into an egg, then quickly fry it in a pat of butter. So easy, so delicious! Sometimes I include grated Parmesan in my cakes, too.

  4. Erin says:

    Thanks for the tip! We tried it and it worked. Definitely a dinner-saver!

    BTW, what is the difference between a grain and a seed. I looked up both definitions and seem to be the same. Your thoughts are much appreciated. Thanks!

  5. Thank you for this. I am about to rinse my quinoa now ready to make a taco filling. The last time I used it, the dish had that yucky bitter taste which put me off using it for awhile so thank you for solving my dilemma :)

  6. Daryl says:

    I wish I had read this before I made a pot of Bob’s quinoa–quite bitter.

    BTW, isn’t a grain of wheat a seed? I don’t understand the distinction unless “grains” are grass seeds only. Maybe it’s a terminological different between botanists and agronomists.

  7. alex says:

    I had the same question about the difference between seeds & grains. Here’s an explanation I liked pretty well: http://www.differencebetween.n.....nd-grains/

    I’m decidedly a quinoa non-fan (even after being vegan for 8 years) but I’ll have to give it another try now that I know to rinse it.

  8. Weston says:

    Thanks man! I was at work today, and I decided to cook a batch of quinao from a bag i kept at work. I was severly dissapointed… It was bitter as medicine! I couldnt stomach much… I wondered what i did wrong, because I made the same brand ( different bag) and it was so delightful!

    I know enough to wash my rice, i should of thought the same for this, but atleast now i know.

  9. Fi says:

    Thank goodness I just found this info about rinsing it. I just tried some for the first ever time making porridge out of flakes. It is so bitter that I feel like I have a burnt throat!! I am really worried about even trying it after washing it but will give it another try in a few days and see what difference it makes. Thanks

  10. Yasmin Zohdy says:

    Normally, cooking instructions for quinoa grain packages include rinsing step. Not so with flakes though. Got this GoGoQuinoa brand and tried their flake porridge. I can not describe just how disgustingly bitter it turned out. I tried to eat it anyway with some lovely vanilla roasted plums. Even so, I can not get rid of the bitter aftertaste for hours now having tried averything including pickled herring. Hate those flakes. To hell with them.

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