There’s an innocent debate happening around quinoa. People can’t seem to decide whether it’s a grain or a seed.
We’re going to end the debate once and for all, with the help of Craig Morris. He’s the director of the USDA ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory and former editor-in-chief of Cereal Chemistry.
First, we need to understand what a grain is and what a seed is.
According to Merriam-Webster, a seed is "the grains or ripened ovules of plants used for sowing" and a grain is "a single small hard seed." One term is basically used to define the other, so what’s the difference?
“A grain and a seed are very nearly the same thing, although you can imagine that a tomato seed is not a grain,” Morris explained to HuffPost. “Once in a while we differentiate that a grain is going to be eaten, whereas a seed is going to be planted (kinda trivial).”
Since we eat quinoa, according to Morris, we can call it a grain without being wrong.
Why is there a debate about quinoa being a grain or a seed?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary, as we mentioned above, defines a grain as a "single small hard seed," but when people talk about grains such as wheat and rice, they’re referring to cereal grains. And quinoa is not a cereal grain.
Cereal grains ― which include oats, wheat, rice, corn, barley, rye, sorghum and millet ― are the edible seeds of specific grasses belonging to the Poaceae family.
Quinoa is a seed that is harvested from a tall, leafy plant that is not a cereal grass ― that’s a relative of spinach, beets and chard. And so quinoa is technically classified as a pseudo-cereal grain, along with amaranth and buckwheat. Pseudo-cereal grains are seeds from a number of different plant species external to the Poaceae family that are eaten in a similar fashion to cereal grains.
So these pseudo-cereal grains are not true grains, but because they’re cooked and eaten in a similar way as other grains they all seem to get lumped into the same grain category.
Is it wrong to call quinoa a grain?
“No, I don’t believe that it is wrong,” says Morris. “Merriam-Webster includes, ‘the seeds or fruits of various food plants including the cereal grasses and in commercial and statutory usage other plants (such as the soybean).’”
Turns out, there’s a lot to know about these tiny seeds that are technically pseudo-cereal grains. But you can informally refer to quinoa as a grain. And now that you know, go cook the stuff and use it in one of these recipes below!