Is quinoa a good substitute for rice?

In this brief article, we will address the query “Is quinoa a good substitute for rice?”. Additionally, it presents the nutritional value of quinoa and rice, as well as the health benefits of consuming quinoa.

Is quinoa a good substitute for rice?

Yes, quinoa is an excellent substitute for rice. As you will read in the following paragraphs, quinoa has superior nutritional value and more health benefits than rice (1).

Do rice and quinoa have similar sensory properties?

Quinoa and rice have very different sensory profiles. The following list summarizes the main differences between these two foods (2,3):

  • Rice has predominantly flavors like starchy, cereal-like or popcorn, and buttery; quinoa presents a different palette of flavors such as roasted, earthy, slightly sweet, and bitter. Quinoa has a high content of saponins, which increase the bitterness of the grain.
  • Quinoa tend to be chewy, firm, and crunchy in texture; on the other hand, rice is normally pasty, soft, and adhesive

Due to these differences, but mainly in their textural properties, quinoa could be a bad substitute for rice in specific dishes. We will discuss this topic in the next subheading.

When is quinoa not a good substitute for rice?

As mentioned in the last subheading, quinoa has different flavor and textural properties, which can make its usage as a rice substitute difficult. For example sushi and risotto (2,3).

Sushi is an Asian dish that has been globalized and nowadays is eaten worldwide. The rice used for preparing sushi must be sticky (determined by the rice adhesiveness) to form the sushi roll. Due to the lack of adhesiveness in quinoa, it could be very difficult to achieve a stable roll-shape (4).

In the case of risotto, it is a popular Italian dish with rice as the main ingredient. Risotto is characterized by a thick texture provided by the swelling capacity of rice’s starch. Unfortunately, quinoa is not able to reach such thickness, and the sensory profile of this dish will not be the same with quinoa compared to rice (4).

Why is quinoa a good substitute for rice?

Quinoa is a good substitute for rice because it has more nutrients like proteins and unsaturated lipids. Additionally, quinoa provides you with bioactive components like saponins and flavonoids with antioxidant properties, which prevent diseases like cancer (1,5).

What is the nutritional value of quinoa?

Quinoa has an excellent nutritional value, it is a pseudocereal with high protein content (11 – 17 %), and the best part is that quinoa has a complete protein! (1,5)

Complete proteins are those that contain all essential amino acids, which are essential for your body. Essential amino acids are needed to produce tissues, organs, immune cells, and even hormones (1,5).

If you want to know more about the importance of proteins, as well as other good protein sources, please visit this post on the importance of protein in breakfast.

Quinoa has approximately 60 % of carbohydrates, and it also contains between 8 and 13 % of fiber. Fiber is really important to maintain good intestinal health and prevent constipation (1,5). 

Fiber feeds your microbiota, which produces short-chain fatty acids, molecules that could prevent colon cancer (1,5).

Another significant nutrient in quinoa is lipids, it has approximately 6 % lipids, which are predominantly unsaturated. Unsaturated lipids like Omega-3 are known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cardioprotective properties (1,5).

Quinoa also has a good content of iron (around 13 mg each 100 g), this is much more than the iron content in cereals like corn, rice, or wheat (around 4 mg). Iron is a mineral essential for preventing anemia (1,5).

The information presented before is of raw quinoa. However, the composition of 1 cup (185 g) of cooked quinoa is the following:

Content in 185 g of cooked quinoa
Protein8.14 g
Lipids3.55 g
Carbohydrate39.4 g
Fiber5.18 g
Iron2.76 mg
Zinc2.02 mg

Adapted from USDA FoodData Central (6).

What is the nutritional value of rice?

The nutritional value of rice is a little bit lower in quality compared to quinoa; rice has fewer protein (7-8 %), fiber (around 1 %), and iron (approximately 2.7 mg/100 g) (7). 

Another drawback of rice is that it’s protein is not complete, it lacks Lysine, an essential amino acid needed for a healthy metabolism (7,8).

A cup of cooked rice provides you with the following nutrients:

Content in 186 g of cooked rice
Protein4.43 g
Lipids0.39 g
Carbohydrate53.2 g
Fiber<1 g
Iron0.37 mg
Zinc0.78 mg

Adapted from USDA FoodData Central (9).

As you can see, rice provides you with very low content of minerals like iron and zinc, fiber, and proteins.

What are the health benefits of quinoa?

Quinoa’s health benefits are related to its protein quality and bioactive components. For example (1,5): 

  • The high protein quality can help for growth in children and adolescents. Help to keep a healthy metabolism and immune system.
  • Unsaturated lipids (Omega-3) of quinoa could prevent cardiovascular diseases.
  • Saponins and flavonoids of quinoa have antioxidant properties, important to prevent diseases like cancer.
  • The fiber of quinoa can help improve your intestinal health, regulate your digestion and prevent constipation.

How to incorporate quinoa in your diet?

You can incorporate quinoa in your diet with plenty of recipes. Quinoa is very versatile, you can add it to your main dishes or make salads with quinoa. Click here to see a lot of good ideas to try.


This brief article addressed the query “Is quinoa a good substitute for rice?”. Additionally, it presented the nutritional value of quinoa and rice, as well as the health benefits of consuming quinoa.


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