How to Tell the Difference Between Quinoa and Millet

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Rice is a superbly versatile grain, and it enjoys a deservedly prominent place in the world's cuisines, but other options are worthy of your attention. Many are longtime staples in their own right, such as millet in Africa and Asia and quinoa in South America's cold, arid Andes. If you're new to alternative grains, differentiating between tiny millet and quinoa is not as difficult as you might think.

Making the Distinction

  • Both millet and quinoa grains are much smaller than rice, but there is only a superficial resemblance. Millet grains are rounded, and most commercial varieties are golden or tan in color. You'll see a small dark dot at the bottom of each grain, giving it a faint resemblance to a miniature grain of corn. Quinoa is slightly flattened, and instead of a dot, it has a curved, tadpole-like germ that stretches around one side. Viewed closely, it might suggest a miniature sandwich cookie or a hamburger on its bun. Black and red varieties are available, but most quinoa is pale and slightly translucent, different from millet's warm golden color.

Cooking Them

  • Quinoa is coated with bitter compounds called saponins, so tasting is another way to tell the two grains apart, especially if your eyesight is poor. Quinoa needs to be rinsed before you cook it. It's usually just simmered, like rice, in 2 parts of water to 1 part of quinoa until tender, about 15 minutes. Millet is more flexible, and it can be cooked to a fluffy, sticky or porridge-like consistency. For fluffy millet, toast it briefly in your pan until it begins to brown and smell aromatic; then add liquid at the usual 2:1 ratio. Cook the grain for 18 to 20 minutes; then let it stand for 10 more. For sticky grain, use 2 1/2 cups of liquid to every cup of millet and 3 to 3 1/2 for porridge.

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