We can all agree that stocking up for our pantry and buying supplies like quinoa in bulk sounds like a good idea. Nonetheless, having plenty of quinoa in your pantry and letting it go to waste because you did not use it in time is a terrible way to spend your money. So, can you still use quinoa in that case, or does quinoa go bad?
Raw or dry quinoa has an approximate shelf life of two to three years. If you notice a difference in how long quinoa cooks or how it tastes, that could already be a sign that your quinoa has expired. Quinoa becomes stale and loses its nutritional value after time and could show signs of mites.
Here is some interesting trivia: according to the USDA, the expiration date on shelf-stable food has nothing to do with the safety of food such as quinoa but is more related to the question of whether the food in your pantry is still in its prime and can deliver quality in texture, flavor, and nutrition. Let’s investigate the best timeframe to use your quinoa in order to guarantee its quality.
How To Tell If Your Quinoa Is Bad
Quinoa will go bad differently in the different stages of its lifecycle. Dry or uncooked quinoa has a different lifecycle from cooked quinoa, and the signs will differ. Let’s look at the symptoms of different types of quinoa going bad.
Sign #1: Dry Quinoa Will Turn Stale First, Changing Its Texture
You can tell that quinoa is bad in the same way that you can see the signs of degradation in any other old grain in your pantry. Quinoa is not actually a grain but rather a seed from the plant Chenopodium quinoa, but many of the same rules apply to quinoa as they would for grain. Quinoa that has gone bad will first become stale before it shows any other signs of spoilage.
Staling is caused at a molecular level where the starch and the gluten of the seed change themselves and bind together. This is why you end up with harder and coarser quinoa that takes longer to cook without having the same texture and fluffiness as fresh quinoa.
When quinoa is stale, the texture of the seeds becomes coarse or hard, compared to the light and fluffy texture if you cook it when the quinoa is still in its prime. Nevertheless, stale quinoa is not harmful to humans, so it does not need to go to waste or be discarded.
Sign #2: Stale Quinoa Will Taste Different
Another way to know that quinoa is stale is in the flavor profile. Quinoa should taste slightly nutty due to its high protein and fiber content. But stale quinoa can lose this somewhat nutty taste and either become bitter or have no flavor at all.
Note that bitter quinoa does not necessarily indicate that it has gone stale. The quinoa seed developed a layer of saponin, a bitter-tasting compound, to discourage birds from eating it. A small amount of saponin can ruin an entire bag of quinoa, and if you don’t prepare the quinoa by rinsing it off before cooking it, your quinoa could also taste bitter.
Sign #3: Bad Quinoa May Contain Flour Mites
As mentioned, stale quinoa is not harmful or inedible, apart from its taste and texture. However, it’s a different matter when quinoa starts to develop a life of its own, in the form of flour mites or other insects.
Even though quinoa is not a grain but a seed, it is still susceptible to many of the same factors as grains and flour. This includes flour mites, bugs, weevils, flour worms, etc.
In small amounts, flour mites are not harmful. You can still cook and eat quinoa containing a few of these insects, as many of us do without realizing it. However, if it is uncontained, your quinoa may be completely ruined and have to be thrown out since large quantities of flour mites can carry foodborne illnesses.
Tip: look for this sign in other foods too, like pistachios!
Sign #4: Bad Quinoa Can Grow Mold
This rule applies to all quinoa, cooked and uncooked. If there is any sign of mold on your quinoa, it’s an indication that you should definitely throw it out. You should never eat moldy quinoa or try to wash or cook the mold away since it is bacterial growth on your quinoa which has already changed its consistency and nutritional value and could lead to food poisoning.
The mold could be visible as green, grey, black, or white spots that may have a furry appearance. But sometimes, you can smell the mold before you see it. It will have a stale, moist smell, like the bottom of an old bathroom cupboard.
Mold will grow in environments that are warm, dark, and moist. If you store your dry or cooked quinoa in any of these conditions, you are almost guaranteed to get mold growth in it. These conditions can be pretty common in pantries, where it can affect your dry, uncooked quinoa, or on kitchen counters and stovetops, where it can also cause mold growth after you cook it.
So, if you happen to store your quinoa in any of these conditions, look out for some discoloration or fluffy growth on it, and pay close attention to the smell, which is often the first sign of mold. If there is a somewhat moist, musty smell to it, do yourself and those you are cooking for a favor and throw it away. You should rather cook a fresh batch than take that risk with your health.
After millennia of human growth and development, we’ve all developed a sense of what is safe or unsafe to eat. Trust your instincts and your senses. If food smells off or does not smell like anything, or if the quinoa does not look like it did when you bought the package, then chances are that it has gone stale, or worse, that there are harmful bacteria on the seeds.
Detecting Spoilage in Other Foods:
- How to tell if pork is bad
- Does Ginger Go Bad?
- Does pickle juice go bad?
- How to tell if ground turkey is bad
- How to tell if chicken broth is bad
How to Store Cooked Quinoa to Keep it Fresh
Before we look at how long cooked quinoa can stay fresh and safe for consumption, your first question should be, did I handle the food in the correct way? Was it properly stored from the beginning, or was it already exposed to harmful bacteria before the quinoa was even placed in the refrigerator?
Remember that bacteria can grow in temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit and start growing as little as two hours after the quinoa was prepared, if the right conditions are met. This is the exact reason why hot food should always be eaten while it is still hot, right after it was prepared.
You should place your cooked quinoa in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The quinoa won’t go bad for four to seven days if you store it in the right conditions. The container should have a lid. If you want, you can even place the pot with the cooked quinoa in the refrigerator and transfer it to another container later. The quinoa cannot stay in the pot for the duration of the four to seven days.
The only other requirement is that the quinoa should not be exposed to any of the other items in the refrigerator, as this can lead to bacterial cross-contamination from one food to the other. That is why food that you place in the fridge should always be placed in a container that keeps odors and contamination away from any other food.
After the four to seven days that quinoa can safely stay in the refrigerator, it is best to discard it. At this point, it can become sour and start to show signs of mold growth, even in the fridge. Even if you don’t notice any of these signs, the quinoa could still upset your stomach as it is not as fresh as it should be.
How to Freeze Quinoa to Keep it From Going Bad
If you enjoy prepping your meals ahead of time, then it is best to store the quinoa in the fridge. But if you see that you will not be able to eat all of the leftover quinoa before the four to seven days are up, you can safely store it in the freezer.
Place the quinoa in an airtight container or freezer bag with no air. This protects the quinoa from freezer burn, as air is the enemy of food stored in this way. Quinoa can stay fresh in the freezer for four to six months. After that, it is still safe to consume, but the quinoa will lose nutritional value, and its flavor can change or disappear entirely.
According to the USDA, food poisoning bacteria does not grow in the freezer as it does on the counter or in the refrigerator. In this case, frozen food is safe to eat, no matter how long you keep it in the freezer. The only change is that the quinoa will not taste the same as when it was first prepared.
More Questions About Quinoa
Can cooked quinoa go bad on the counter or the stovetop overnight?
The “danger zone,” a term that is mentioned in an article by the USDA about the safe handling of food, is between 40- and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that the quinoa you left on the counter overnight is probably already bad, especially if it shows signs of sourness, mold, discoloration, or any foul odor.
It does not even matter if you do not notice any of the signs mentioned. The growth of bacteria has already begun. This is exactly what many of us do; we do not see any sign of spoilage and assume that it is still safe to eat, while in fact, there are already pathogens in the quinoa, which could cause foodborne illness.
How should I store quinoa to keep it from going bad?
You should always store quinoa in an airtight container away from moist or hot areas. Ensure that the container is adequately cleaned. Doing this will ensure that any of the old staleness of the previous quinoa is washed away. If you skip this step, you are exposing the fresh quinoa to the staling of the previous quinoa, possibly along with some bacterial remnants.
You should store the quinoa in a cool, dry place to ensure no mold will grow on it and to keep the flour mites and other bugs from getting to it.
How long does dry quinoa last?
Dry quinoa lasts a long time if stored correctly! If stored in a dry, airtight container, it can last up to 2-3 years.
How long does cooked quinoa last?
Cooked quinoa lasts for 5-7 days in the fridge (make sure to still store it in an airtight container). Or, you can freeze it as discussed earlier for up to a year!
What if a recipe calls for quinoa and I don’t have any?
If you are all out of quinoa, you can check out 10 quinoa substitutes that work in a pinch. Things like millet, cous cous, and rice can all work.
Quinoa is a healthy, hearty food that makes a great side dish for many meals. We love eating quinoa in our family. But if you forget about quinoa in the cupboard for too long, you will want to inspect it to make sure it is still in the prime condition for eating. Storing your quinoa correctly and knowing the shelf life will ensure this never happens!