Can You Use Grits in Place of Quinoa?

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Just as most grains can be used in place of another in a recipe, grits can be used in place of quinoa. However, each grain has its own distinct texture and flavor, so substitutions likely taste and feel differently on the tongue than the original recipe intended. Grits, a corn-based product, and quinoa, a grain, have several distinct differences besides taste and texture, including history and cooking time. When using grits in place of quinoa, be aware that a longer cooking time may be required and the final product may be thicker and richer than originally intended.

Grits vs. Quinoa

Grits are a Southern American staple and the official state food of South Carolina. Historically, grits constituted stone-ground corn pieces simmered for a long time and served as a side dish, though with hulling technology today, quick-cooking grits are increasingly available on shelves. Quinoa, on the other hand, is a staple of the continent further south. Eaten throughout South America, it was considered sacred by the Incas and was eaten until the conquistadors arrived. It has become popular throughout the West due to its nutritional value and ease in cooking.


Grits are typically cooked with 1 part corn and 4 parts water or liquid, seasoned with salt. Long-cooking grits can take between 25 to 30 minutes simmered on the stove, while quick-cooking grits typically take five to 10 minutes. This cooking time is similar to that of quinoa, which requires 1 part grain to every 2 parts water to cook, and are done within 15 minutes. However, while grits require constant stirring to prevent clumping, quinoa is best left untouched while cooking, and requires only a gentle fluffing and resting period for five to eight minutes when removed from heat.

Texture and Taste

Grits taste similar to polenta, another corn-based food, with a slightly sweet flavor and a starchy, thick consistency. Quinoa, on the other hand, tends to be fluffy, with distinctly separated grains and a nutty taste. The taste can be unappealing to some and the grain tastes the best when cooked in a flavored liquid, such as chicken broth.


Quinoa can also be used in place of grits, creating an alternative to the corn-based Southern dish. Use the same amount of quinoa in lieu of the grits, simmering them in chicken broth and heavy cream to achieve a similar texture. It can also be a base for other corn porridges, such as polenta or farina.