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The Many Colors of Quinoa

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2014

What are the differences between white, red, and black quinoa?

White quinoa is the most commonly found variety of these tiny seeds native to South America, but red and black varieties are increasingly available. To see if color made a difference, we put together batches of our quinoa pilaf recipes (see related content) using all three types.

White quinoa, the largest seeds of the three, had a slightly nutty, vegetal flavor with a hint of bitterness; it also had the softest texture of the three quinoas. The medium-size red seeds offered a heartier crunch, thanks to their additional seed coat and a predominant nuttiness. Black quinoa seeds, the smallest of the three, have the thickest seed coat. They were notably crunchy in our recipe and retained their shape the most during cooking, but many tasters disliked their slightly sandy texture. These seeds had the mildest flavor, with a hint of molasses-like sweetness.

We’ll definitely use white and red quinoa interchangeably in our quinoa pilaf recipes and other side dishes or salads, but black quinoa is better off in recipes specifically tailored to its distinctive texture and flavor.

WHITE: Most commonly available.

RED: Can be used interchangeably with white quinoa.

BLACK: Use only when specified in recipes.