Quinoa has grown greatly in popularity over the last several years. It was once a grain only found in health food stores and now you’ll find it front and center in most grocery stores right next to the rice and pasta. Quinoa is actually a seed but is classified as a pseudo grain since the nutritional makeup is similar to whole grains. Nutritionally speaking quinoa is high in fiber, minerals and phytochemicals that provide antioxidants. Compared to regular whole grains, quinoa provides a complete protein making it an all around healthy choice for your next lunch or dinner.
The problem with quinoa? The bitter flavor. For some that bitter flavor is favorable but for others it’s a deal breaker. The bitter flavor comes from compounds called saponins that coat the plant providing protection from fungi and microbes. If you’ve tried quinoa and don’t enjoy the flavor there’s a few tips that may make you change your mind completely.
Give it one more chance using the following ways to get rid of the bitters:
Rinse. Yes…it is a pain to rinse quinoa. You have to use a sieve and the little seeds stick to it once wet. Give yourself a few more minutes to do this step. Rinsing the saponins off the outside of the seed makes a big difference.
Toast… a lot. I’ve heard the message to toast quinoa in a little oil in the past but it didn’t seem to make much difference. That is until the day my kids distracted me and I really toasted them. I’m talking brown colored (not burned) toasted. My son asked if I was baking cookies it smelled so good; it made all the difference in taste. Before adding the liquid, toast the quinoa in a little olive oil, stirring around frequently until darker in color and you smell the wonderful toasty aroma.
Cook in broth. Using broth (I use low sodium broth) instead of water adds salt which helps decrease the bitter note in foods and provides more balance to the overall flavor. I also throw in a bay leaf to provide an aromatic while cooking.
Add salty or sweet ingredients to your quinoa dish. What you add to your quinoa makes all the difference in how your final dish will taste. Salty and sweet flavors help balance bitter. Go with salty ingredients like olives or prosciutto or go a different road and add sweet from fruit or dressings that include a sweet flavor like honey. If you’re feeling adventurous add both flavor profiles.
Avoid bitter on top of bitter. Think about your ingredients and avoid adding several bitter foods together like kale and broccoli on your quinoa with nothing to balance it out. It can end up being bitter overload. Always balance it with something sweet or salty. I prefer the sweet profile myself.
Ready to give it a try? Make this recipe for Quinoa, Kale and Pear Salad or the summer version Quinoa with Arugula and Peaches and see how the bitter flavor disappears. Come back and let us know if we’ve made you believers.
Meri Raffetto is the founder of Real Living Nutrition, triplet mom and author of the Glycemic Index Diet for Dummies and coauthor of the Glycemic Index Cookbook for Dummies, and Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Dummies.