Most recipes call for rinsing quinoa vigorously for a few minutes before cooking it, claiming that it will wash away a bitter natural coating that coats the quinoa seeds. But is this step really necessary? We decided to test it and find out!
The Original Tip
Our basic recipe for cooking quinoa starts out with rinsing it in a fine-mesh strainer under cold water for 2 minutes. This is the reasoning:
Why rinse quinoa? Rinsing removes quinoa's natural coating, called saponin, which can make it taste bitter or soapy. Although boxed quinoa is often pre-rinsed, it doesn't hurt to give the seeds an additional rinse at home.
But with a severe drought going on in California where I live, I started to wonder if it's really necessary to waste all that water. Could this step just be skipped completely? Does rinsing quinoa improve the flavor that much?
The Testing Method
My method for testing this involved cooking two batches of quinoa and them tasting them side by side. I purchased red quinoa from the bulk bin at Whole Foods, since that is more likely to still have the saponin coating on it than boxed quinoa.
Next, I followed The Kitchn's recipe and made two batches:
For my first batch, I did not rinse the quinoa but toasted it right in the saucepan with olive oil before cooking it with salt and water. After this batch was done, I transferred it to a bowl, then cleaned out the saucepan.
For my second batch, I rinsed the quinoa thoroughly, shook off the excess water in the strainer, and proceeded to cook it exactly the same way I did for the first batch: same amount of oil, salt, and water, same pan, same timing.
After both batches of cooked quinoa cooled down to room temperature, I took a taste.
So what were the results? I noticed differences on two levels:
- Texture - The unrinsed quinoa had a firmer, more al dente texture than the rinsed quinoa. If you look at the picture above, the seeds of the unrinsed quinoa on the left didn't pop open as much as the rinsed quinoa on the right. It wasn't a huge difference in texture, but definitely noticeable. Rinsing quinoa definitely starts to hydrate the seeds.
- Flavor - In terms of flavor, the unrinsed quinoa definitely had a nuttier, earthier flavor, but I didn't find it bitter at all. The rinsed quinoa was definitely milder and the flavors more muted.
Verdict: This is not a mind-blowing tip!
After doing this test and thinking about the results, I realized that whether or not you need to rinse quinoa is really a personal choice. For those who don't love the taste of quinoa but eat it because it's healthy, rinsing off any residual coating probably helps make it more palatable.
But for those people who actually like the earthier, nuttier flavors, not to mention a firmer texture, not having to rinse the quinoa saves time and water and you don't have to wash out a strainer, big pluses in my book.
If you've always rinsed your quinoa, I would recommend you skip it the next time and see if you still like the flavor — it's worth a shot, and you can always go back to rinsing if you don't like it!