The Real Difference Between Red, Black, And White Quinoa

Quinoa was one of the trendiest health foods over recent years, and since then, it seems like there are tons of colorful options to choose from when buying bags of the seed. Though the most common options for quinoa are white, red, and black, quinoa also comes in purple, orange, and rainbow, which is a combination of a lot of colors. With so many options to choose from, you might question what the difference is between them all, so you'll be happy to know that Jennifer's Kitchen says the colors are pretty interchangeable despite slight flavor differences. However, Cook's Illustrated claims that while red and white are interchangeable, black only belongs in certain recipes.

If you ask Bob's Red Mill founder and CEO Bob Moore, according to The Kitchn, he'll tell you there is no difference between red and white quinoa. Both have the same wonderful nutritional benefits and are generally cooked the same way. If you ask author Maria Speck, however, there are nuanced differences. For example, white quinoa has the shortest cook time, the mildest nutty flavor, and is the chewiest of the three main colors, says Speck. Red is slightly nuttier, according to Jennifer's Kitchen. Black quinoa takes the longest to cook, has the strongest nutty flavor, and is more coarse and crunchy.

Keep in mind that if you have three bags, one of each color, the oldest back will be the longest to cook and the crunchiest. So, you'll want to work with fresh quinoa.

How to choose which quinoa for your recipe

When choosing which quinoa to use in your recipe, consider the flavor and texture of the dish. Many people like red quinoa for its color, which contrasts beautifully in green salads, and also for its nice, mildly nutty flavor. For dishes with a lot of other crunchy components, you might prefer the softer white variety, however.

Though white is most widely available and red can be swapped in for white quinoa if you have it and prefer it, there are stricter rules for black quinoa. Thanks to its earthy flavor, longer cook time, and crunchier texture, it's best to use black quinoa in recipes that specifically call for it.

If you have access to some of the other, more unusual colors of quinoa, then explore those options and see if you like them. Purple quinoa is quite similar to red. Orange quinoa is difficult to find but is milder than red quinoa. Any of these colorful options are beautiful additions to any salad, grain bowl, or as a bed for protein.