To rinse or not to rinse. When it comes to quinoa, that is often the question. But is washing quinoa really required?
“I’ll cut to the chase,” writes Lisa Cericola of Southern Living. “Nothing happens if you don’t rinse uncooked quinoa ... I skipped the rinse cycle, combined the quinoa with some water in a saucepan, and hoped for the best. And it was totally fine.”
So yeah, you forgot to rinse the quinoa and freaked out over basically nothing. Who decided that step one of every single quinoa recipe should read: "Rinse and drain the grains," anyway?
Blame it on the saponins
Every tiny grain of quinoa is coated with naturally occurring compounds called saponins. Saponins exist for good reason—they protect the quinoa plant from birds, insects, and other predators while it’s growing. And it tastes bitter.
Conventional thinking is if you don’t wash the saponins off your quinoa before you cook it, it will be bitter and well, gross.
The thing is, trendy little quinoa has experienced quite an exponential rise in popularity over the past decade (largely due to its super-impressive-gluten-free-complete-protein nutrition stats). It’s now pretty standard practice for manufacturers to triple rinse quinoa and slap a label of “pre-washed” on the bag before it even gets to the market. This should do well enough to rinse that bitterness away.
The nutritional cost
Sometimes quinoa labeled as "pre-washed" is not washed with water, but instead treated with an abrasion process. While abrasion removes saponins, it also removes some of quinoa's beneficial bran layer and germ. This makes pre-rinsed quinoa ever-so-slightly less nutritious, but it's still a plant-based powerhouse.
One cup of cooked quinoa contains five grams of fiber, 15 percent of your daily recommended value of iron and eight grams of protein. In fact, according to Kristin Kirkpatrick, manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, "it provides all the essential amino acids we need for good health." And quinoa is not just a side dish—it boosts morning meals, salads, and desserts too.
Are you sensitive to saponins?
"I almost never rinse my grains," says cookbook author and Instagrammer Maria Speck. "I’ve been eating grains my whole life, and I’ve never seen such clean grains as the ones sold today." However, if you tend to buy quinoa from the bulk section of the supermarket, you still might want to wash it to be safe—especially if you think you might be sensitive to saponins.
How would you know? Certified holistic nutritionist Alyssa Rimmer of Simply Quinoa (who BTW doesn't rinse her quinoa either) explains it like this: “If you're one of those people who thinks quinoa tastes like soap or grass after you’ve cooked, that's a sign.” Another sign? An upset stomach after eating it.
If you find that to be the case, go back to Step One. There's an easy way to rinse quinoa: Put it in a fine mesh strainer, run it under cold water, and drain. It only takes a minute.
- Southern Living: This is What Really Happens if You Don't Wash Quinoa
- Simply Quinoa: Do You Need to Rinse Your Quinoa?
- Time: Quinoa: Should You Eat It?
- Epicurious: Does Quinoa Need to Be Rinsed?
- Everyday Health: Is Quinoa Good for You? Everything You Need to Know About the Superfood
- Reader's Digest: What Is Quinoa? 15 Creative Recipes