What is the difference between white, red, and black quinoa?
What is black quinoa? Among the 120+ different varieties of this seed, the darkest - or black - has the strongest flavor and crunchiest texture. It also takes longer to cook - up to 20 minutes or more versus the 15 minutes needed for most common ivory or white varieties.
The other big difference is the textures between the three. The blacks tend to have thicker shells, which means they hold their shape more distinctly after being cooked, versus a white which will often turn into somewhat of a mashed appearance.
Red quinoa is somewhere in between the two. How much cooking time it requires is around 17 to 18 minutes, on average, before the little "strings" (which are part of the hull) become visible. When you compare the difference in taste of red vs. black quinoa, both will have the same signature nutty flavor and more so than white, but black will offer the strongest flavor profile of the three kinds. Therefore if you want the taste of your quinoa to standout in your recipe versus taking a backseat, go with the colored kinds.
What type of quinoa is best for you?
As we all know one of the biggest health benefits of quinoa is its nutritional value. When compared to most grains, it has a better protein profile; all of the essential amino acids in well balanced proportions. Which color is the healthiest? The answer to this question is quite simple. The darker the quinoa, the healthier it is for you. The reasons for this are:
Digestion - As long as its not refined into ground flour, its glycemic index is similar to brown rice; 50 versus 53 for white quinoa. Testing for black has not been published but it wouldn't be surprising if it's an estimated 3 to 7 points lower than white, since its shell is thicker and more fibrous, which means it might take slightly longer to digest.
This is a positive benefit for diabetics and others who desire more stable blood sugar levels, but it might actually be bad for you if you frequently experience digestive issues breaking down more fibrous foods, such as stomach aches and pain after eating even a regular-sized meal.
Contrary to what marketing tells us, for a small percentage of the population, more fiber can be a bad thing if your gastrointestinal tract moves slower than that of the average person. In that case, black quinoa is harder to digest and should be avoided or used sparingly (i.e. within a tricolor blend). For everyone else, more fiber as well as less processed and raw foods are generally healthiest for you.
Antioxidants - If you compare the nutritional value of white quinoa vs. black quinoa, both will have the same amount of calories and almost identical amounts of carbs, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Even though black has more fiber content, it's not a huge difference. The one number where ivory, red, and black rank quite differently is for antioxidant activity.
Black has more antioxidants - substantially more - than the white. Its ORAC value of 4800 is 50% higher than the regular version. Red falls between the two at 3900. So even though the rest of the nutritional facts are quite similar for the three kinds, the one factor which sets the darker kinds apart is how much antioxidants are in them.
Why is black quinoa more expensive?
After hearing that it has the highest antioxidant content you may think that's the reason, but it isn't. In fact most consumers are oblivious to the difference in nutrition and health benefits and therefore, charging more money for black doesn't work for that reason.
Really what it comes down to is supply and demand, basic economics 101. The ivory or regular white is the go to type for the most commercially used purposes. In response, that's what farmers produce more of. With more farmers producing it, there's more availability and competition in price and as a result, it ends up having the lowest cost of the three. Without there being a lot of demand for black, fewer suppliers means less competition, which unfortunately means a higher price for you at the grocery store.
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't: Ancient grains: Opportunities for amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum and teff in gluten-free products. ConAgra Mills. July 2010