What's the Difference Between Red and White Quinoa?

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I cook quinoa pretty frequently, using it in grain bowls or in salads. I've been increasingly enamored of red quinoa, which looks really gorgeous in salads, and which seems to hold its shape just a little bit better than the more commonly-found white quinoa. I became curious: was there any real difference between these two colors, or their third exotic sibling, black quinoa? I decided to ask a couple experts.

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The Grower/Producer Perspective: No Difference

I asked the good folks at Bob's Red Mill (see our tour of the Mill here) for their answer on the difference between red and white (or golden) quinoa, from the grower and producer perspective. Bob Moore himself, founder and CEO of Bob’s Red Mill, told me, "There is no significant difference between red and golden quinoa. Both offer the same high quality nutrition and nutty, earthy flavor." He did admit to a preference for red quinoa, for its color. "I find the red quinoa particularly appealing for its vibrant color, which makes a beautiful bed for proteins and contrasts nicely with green vegetables.”

Basically, they're the same, and they can be cooked in the same way, which bears out my own experience.

But I did feel that there were some nuanced differences between the two, from the cook's perspective, so I turned to another whole grains expert — Maria Speck, the author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.

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The Cook's Perspective: Nuanced Differences

While these different types of quinoa are indeed very much the same, Maria says there are slight differences in the optimal cooking times. She says, "Quinoa comes in many different colors, with white, red, and black being the most commonly cultivated. There are slight differences in cooking times and chewiness; white quinoa, which you will most often find in stores, is the mildest and least crunchy, and cooks up the fastest, in 10 to 15 minutes. Black is on the other end of the spectrum—it might need 5 minutes or so longer and is the crunchiest of the three with red somewhere in the middle."

"But, as with all grains, there can also be variations depending on how old your quinoa is; then the white one might also take longer to cook and be more crunchy."

Choosing the Right Quinoa for a Recipe

Maria, like Bob, chooses the right quinoa for a recipe largely by color. "I choose quinoa the way I choose dried beans: I buy what is available and if all three types are, I buy the one whose color I find most appealing for my recipe. Just imagine how stunning black quinoa looks when combined with bright green vegetables and topped with green pistachios and red pomegranate seeds, or picture it next to a piece of cooked salmon with its coral hue. This is when I go for black, even if it takes a few minutes longer to cook!"

Cooking Advice for Quinoa

If you're cooking quinoa — any color! — start with our basic tutorial, which can be found here:

And then adjust cooking time with Maria's advice. She says, "Check the water and the texture of the grain a few minutes before the end of the suggested cooking time. If the quinoa is done to your liking, drain it. If not, cook it a bit longer, adding a drizzle more water or broth as needed. And if you have a few extra minutes, allow it to steam off the heat with the lid on— this plumps up the kernels nicely."

Thanks Bob and Maria!

Now I'm curious; what do you use more frequently? Golden quinoa? Red? Have you ventured into the black?

5 Recipes with Quinoa

(Image credits: Faith Durand)