Quinoa has a high protein content, contains all nine essential amino acids, and cooks up quickly with a firm, satisfying texture. The only real downside to quinoa, some batches can be unpleasantly bitter. This bitterness is due to a concentration of compounds called saponins, and they’re found on the surface of the seed. These saponins repel birds from eating the seed before harvest, which is a good thing, but their mild toxicity can cause stomach distress for some people, and that’s not such a good thing.
The Quinoa Experiment
To get rid of the bitter coating, many brands of quinoa come pre-washed, but not all of them. To find out if pre-washing guarantees less bitter quinoa and if you should still rinse the pre-washed stuff, we ran an experiment. We purchased all available brands of both pre-washed and unwashed white quinoa and rinsed half of each under cool water in a strainer for one minute while leaving the other half un-rinsed. We cooked each sample using 1-3/4 cups water to 1-1/2 cups quinoa and tasted them blind, side by side.
Tasters were asked to write the samples according to level of bitterness. There was no discernible difference in bitterness between pre-washed quinoa that we did not rinse and unwashed quinoa that we did rinse. Both of these samples fell in the middle of the pack in terms of bitterness. The pre-washed quinoa that we rinsed was deemed the least bitter while the unwashed quinoa that we did not rinse was by far the most bitter.
Our results show that making the best tasting quinoa begins at the supermarket where you want to buy brands that are labeled as pre-washed, but your work isn’t done yet. Even pre-washed quinoa benefits from a quick rinse in a fine mesh strainer to produce the least bitter, best tasting pilaf. Happy cooking!
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