Examining the Best Way to Cook Quinoa (Rice Cooker, Stove Top, or Pre-Toast)

I Heart Keenwah co-founder Ravi presents a scientific approach to comparing the three common ways of cooking quinoa: in a rice cooker, on the stovetop, and pre-toasted. 

There are many ways to cook quinoa, and people always ask me which one is the best. I always answer, “It depends.” You see, the three most common types of cooking quinoa yield a different end product. None of them are better than the other. Once and for all, let’s examine the three types of cooking quinoa and discuss the differences! 

 

Rice Cooker Method

 
 

Cooking Time: 15 minutes, Resting Time: 5 minutes

Recipe: 1 part quinoa, 2 parts water

Rice cookers are cheap (~$20) and versatile. I use mine at least three times per week, making brown rice, basmati rice or quinoa (or a combination of the three). Most conventional rice cookers can cook quinoa without a problem. It’s definitely the easiest method. Just add 1 part quinoa with 2 parts water, switch on and walk away. Cooking time will vary with your type of rice cooker and the amount of quinoa you’re cooking. 1 cup of cooked quinoa will be ready in 15 minutes. The quinoa’s taste is clean and neutral, and the texture soft with just the slightest bit of chew -- similar to al dente pasta. This is because the quinoa seeds at the bottom of the rice cooker don’t receive the same amount of steam as the seeds towards the top. You can be the judge on whether this slight variation bothers you. 

 

Stove Top Method

 
 

Cooking Time: 15 minutes, Resting Time: 5 minutes

Recipe: 1 part quinoa, 2 parts water

Cooking quinoa on the stovetop is the classic method, and one that is foolproof if you adhere to the water ratios and times. Combine one part quinoa with two parts water. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, cover pan and simmer for 12-15 minutes on low heat. Stir every few minutes. Remove from heat and let the quinoa rest (with the cover still on the pot) for an additional 5 minutes and serve. The quinoa’s taste is clean and neutral, but the texture is moderately softer and fluffier than when using a rice cooker. The key here is to let the quinoa sit and rest before serving. 

 

Pre-Toast Method

 
 

Roasting Time: 5 minutes, Cooking Time: 15 minutes, Resting Time: 5 minutes

Recipe: 1 part quinoa, 2.5 parts water

Tip: No time to pre-toast? No worries - we've done it for you! Check out our new Toasted Quinoa

The pre-toast-and-cook method is my personal favorite, and it’s a mere variation on the classic stovetop method. Instead of boiling the quinoa right away, you roast the dry quinoa on the stovetop for 3-5 minutes on low heat. Roast the dry quinoa in the same way that you would roast nuts on the stovetop. Stir frequently to prevent burning, and wait until a nutty aroma and popping sound fill the air. Once the quinoa is roasted, add water to the pot, cover and bring water to a boil. Then simmer the quinoa for 12-15 minutes on low heat. It’s important to note that you will want to increase the water ratio in the pre-toast method to adjust for the moisture that escapes from the quinoa during the toasting process. Once the cooking is complete, remove the pot from heat. Let the quinoa rest (with the cover still on the pot) for an additional 5 minutes and serve. The quinoa’s taste is nutty with notes of caramelized flavors, and the texture is soft and fluffy. 

 
 

Taste Test

We prepared three batches of quinoa using the various cooking methods, and conducted a taste test. Verdict: they all tasted good. The stovetop method produced the fluffiest, cleanest quinoa, whereas the pre-toasted method produced a quinoa that had richer flavor. If eating quinoa plain as a side dish, I’d recommend pre-toasting. If using in a recipe, I’d recommend the classic stovetop method or the rice cooker method.   

Summary

Rice Cooker Method

Cooking Time: 15 minutes, Resting Time: 5 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Recipe: 1 part quinoa, 2 parts water

Texture: Soft with a tad bit of chew, al dente

Taste: Clean, neutral

 

Stove Top Method

Cooking Time: 15 minutes, Resting Time: 5 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

Recipe: 1 part quinoa, 2 parts water

Texture: Soft and fluffy, with tails unraveled

Taste: Clean, neutral

 

Pre-Toast Method

Roasting Time: 5 minutes, Cooking Time: 15 minutes, Resting Time: 5 minutes

Difficulty: Hard

Recipe: 1 part quinoa, 2.5 parts water

Texture: Soft and fluffy, with tails unraveled

Taste: Nutty

 
 

Additional tips / frequently asked questions:

Question: Should I add salt to the water when boiling quinoa?

Answer: My view is no. Adding salt to the water will prevent the quinoa from getting plump and the tail (germ) unwinding. Add salt to quinoa after it is cooked.

Question: Should I let the quinoa rest before eating?

Answer: Absolutely. This is the single most important thing you can do to getting fluffier quinoa. No matter how you cook it, let the quinoa rest for at least 5 minutes in a covered cooking vessel before eating it. This will allow the water to evenly permeate the body of the quinoa seeds.

Question: Should I wash or pre-rinse the quinoa before eating?

Answer: Depends on what type of quinoa you buy. When quinoa first launched in the US several years ago, the seeds weren’t washed as thoroughly as they are today. To prevent quinoa from tasting bitter, people had to rinse the quinoa several times to remove the natural saponin coating from the seed. Nowadays, most brands of quinoa are pre-washed and do not need rigorous rinsing. Our Toasted Quinoa is thoroughly washed. You can usually tell if the quinoa is free of saponin by examining the seeds themselves. Saponin is pink in color. If your quinoa claims to be pre-washed and is white in appearance, chances are the saponin levels are low, and your quinoa will not taste bitter.

Question: Why is my quinoa so chewy?

Answer: You a) didn’t add enough water, b) didn’t cook for at least 10 minutes, or c) haven’t let it rest post-cooking with the cover still on the pot.

Question: Why is my quinoa so quinoa so mushy?

Answer: You a) added too much water or b) cooked it longer than 15 minutes.

 

Do you have any tips for cooking quinoa? If so, let us know!

Credit: This article was inspired by a Serious Eats piece "The Food Lab: The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies" by J. Kenji-Lopez-Alt.