As far as grains and ‘pseudo grains’ go, Quinoa has the biggest health halo. However, if you don’t have access or don’t want to stock your pantry with yet another ingredient, there are plenty of delicious (and healthy) alternatives! Here are my favourite quinoa substitutes.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a small, grain-like seed originally from South America. It has a mild nutty, grainy flavour and when cooked properly has a lovely chewy texture similar to cooked barley.
It’s higher in protein than most grains. And a good source of fiber. It’s low GI, so a better choice than many grains. However, I personally only have it on very special occasions because I find it’s not great for my blood sugar.
The Best Quinoa Substitutes
1. Cooked Rice
While white rice is probably the easiest substitute for cooked quinoa, brown rice is closer from a nutrition and flavour perspective.
Rice will absorb different amount of liquid to quinoa and the cooking time will be different so best to cook the rice (just boil until tender – about 10 minutes for white) and drain. Then use in your recipe as per the cooked quinoa.
2. Cooked Couscous
While it’s missing the cute little curly tail of quinoa, couscous has the closest appearance to cooked quinoa. As noted above the cooking time will be different so substitute in cooked couscous at the cooked stage of the recipe.
3. Cooked Barley
I love the texture of barley. Barley grains are much larger than quinoa but you do get the lovely chewy factor. As per all the substitutes here, the cooking time and liquid absorption will be slightly different.
4. Cooked / Canned Chickpeas
Chickpeas are much larger, however they’re a good option if you want something super quick, gluten-free and with a similar protein and fiber content to quinoa.
Low-Carb Quinoa Substitutes
1. Roast Cauliflower
If you’re looking for a more vegetable-focused, low carb alternative to quinoa, my favourite substitute is roast cauliflower florettes. Like the ones in this recipe.
2. Other Roast Veg
While cauli is my fave, other roast vegetables like zucchini, eggplant (aubergine) or even broccoli can work as a healthier alternative to cooked quinoa.
A big handful of roast nuts like almonds, cashews, pine nuts or walnuts can add substance and interesting texture to recipes using cooked quinoa.
How to Cook Quinoa
While you can use the absorption method, the easiest way is to just boil it like pasta in a big pot of water. Drain when it’s tender – about 12 minutes. Too easy.
Favourite Quinoa Recipes
- Quinoa Tabbouleh
- Spiced Eggplant with Yoghurt & Quinoa
- Quinoa, Feta & Avocado Salad
- Cheesey Quinoa
- Crisp Kale with Quinoa & Ricotta
- Warm Salad of Roast Cauliflower & Quinoa
- See the Quinoa archives.
More on Quinoa
More Ingredient Substitutes
- The Ultimate Guide to Vegetable Substitutes
- Collard Greens
- Miso Paste
- Oyster Sauce
Also see see the Simple Ingredients Substitutes Index.
Have fun in the kitchen!