How to Cook Quinoa

Tired of clumpy, wet quinoa? Worry no more! Cook the lightest, fluffiest quinoa in 20 minutes; then add it to salads, bowls, and wraps. It keeps well in the fridge, so make a big batch, and use this gluten-free, protein-rich “grain” all week!

Perfect quinoa in a bowl along with lettuce, tomatoes, radish and a fork.
Sally Vargas

Nutty, earthy, and packed with fiber and protein, quinoa is a healthy grain that you can use in pilafs, soups, casseroles, and salads. Splash your favorite milk and a spoonful of honey into a bowl of quinoa to make a great breakfast cereal too.

This grain is so versatile that if you cooked quinoa every week, you could never use it in the same recipe twice!

What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa “grains” are actually the seeds from an annual flowering plant in the amaranth family, most closely related to spinach.

Familiar grains like rice and wheat are seeds from grasses, and they have a different structure (bran, germ, and endosperm), so technically quinoa is classified as a pseudo-cereal, since it is neither a grain nor a cereal.

The cultivation of quinoa originated in the Andes region of South America, but it is now grown throughout the world. Its short cooking time, mineral-rich content, and protein value (8 grams per cooked cup) has made it a sought-after alternative to other grains. Quinoa is also gluten-free, which is one more reason for its popularity.

You’ll find quinoa in many colors, from white, to brown, to red, and purple. They are interchangeable in cooking, and it would be hard to distinguish the taste difference among the many colors.

Uncooked quinoa in a blue bowl with a large spoon and a linen underneath to show how to cook fluffy quinoa.
Sally Vargas

What Makes Quinoa Bitter?

Quinoa’s natural coating, called saponin, makes the grain taste soapy or bitter. A quick, vigorous rinse under cold running water removes the bitterness.

Even if a package says the quinoa has been rinsed, it’s always a good idea to rinse it anyway. A fine mesh strainer and the spray nozzle on your sink should do the trick.

How to Make Fluffy Quinoa

Because it is a seed, quinoa absorbs water differently than other grains. To make it fluffy, cook it uncovered at a low simmer. Once it’s tender and no water remains in the bottom of the pot, cover it.

Let it steam with the lid on to finish absorbing any excess the water. Some water evaporates while cooking with the pot uncovered, so the cooked quinoa does not get soggy or clumpy.

Homemade quinoa recipe in a dark bowl.
Sally Vargas

How to Use Up Quinoa

I like to make quinoa early in the week and use it in a salad with whatever vegetables or leftovers I have in the fridge.

I love cooked quinoa for a healthy hot or cold breakfast, mixed with almond milk and a little maple syrup and topped with berries. I’ve also used cooked quinoa in turkey meatballs in place of breadcrumbs. Or just serve it alongside your favorite chicken, fish, or steak recipe.

How to Store Cooked Quinoa

Leftover cooked quinoa stored in an airtight container will last up to five days in the refrigerator and two months in the freezer.

Try These Delicious Quinoa Recipes


Learn How to Cook Tasty Quinoa

How to Cook Quinoa

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Yield 3 cups


  • 1 cup quinoa, any variety
  • Pinch of salt (optional)


  1. Rinse the quinoa:

    In a fine-meshed strainer, rinse the quinoa under cold water for 30 seconds. Drain well.

    Uncooked quinoa in a colander with water being poured over top and draining in a bowl to show how to cook perfect quinoa.
    Sally Vargas
  2. Cook the quinoa:

    In a small saucepan, combine the drained quinoa, 2 cups water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to maintain a steady, gentle simmer.

    Simmer, uncovered, for 12 to 16 minutes, or until the germs (tiny spirals) separate and curl around the seeds, and the water is absorbed. With a spoon, dig down to the bottom of the pot and check to see if the water has evaporated. If not, cook for a few more minutes.

    Quinoa in a saucepan to show how to cook perfect quinoa.
    Sally Vargas
    Homemade quinoa recipe in a saucepan and simmering in water.
    Sally Vargas
  3. Steam the cooked quinoa:

    Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and let steam for 5 minutes.

  4. Serve:

    Remove the lid, fluff the quinoa with a fork and transfer to a serving bowl.

    A saucepan of perfect quinoa and a large serving fork to show how to cook fluffy quinoa.
    Sally Vargas