Quinoa is an edible seed that’s full of protein and has a delightful texture. But is it gluten-free?
Quinoa is a great source of protein, fiber, calcium, and iron. Unlike most other cereal grains, quinoa is referred to as a “complete protein” because it contains all nine essential amino acids. Plus, let’s be honest: It’s fun to say! “Keen-wah…”
Because wheat is not an option to those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, we’re always on the hunt for whole grains and seeds that satisfy without triggering an autoimmune response. Quinoa is a fabulous option; additionally, it’s easy to prepare and versatile enough to work in many different dishes.
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SHORT ANSWER: YES!
Yes, quinoa is gluten-free! Quinoa is a wonderful replacement for wheat in a gluten-free diet, because it is rich in protein, fiber, and many nutrients.
Is Quinoa Gluten Free?
Gluten is a protein naturally occurring in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. For people with celiac disease, ingesting gluten (even a small amount) triggers an immune response: stomachache, bloating, nausea, and harm to the small intestine that can turn into serious long-term damage. Celiac aside, many people struggle with varying degrees of gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity that can make gluten-containing grains off-limits.
Quinoa is a great alternative to gluten grains. Often called a “super food,” quinoa packs a good amount of non-gluten protein, along with other nutrients and dietary fiber. It is safe for celiac patients and anyone else avoiding gluten.
Natural quinoa is gluten-free, but when you’re shopping at the grocery store, check packaging to make sure the quinoa you’re buying is certified gluten-free, meaning that it is free from cross-contamination with gluten ingredients. It meets the FDA standard of less than 20 parts per million of gluten. Also watch out for packaged quinoa mixes that may contain gluten-containing ingredients.
What Is Quinoa?
Quinoa is an ancient seed originating from the Andean region of South America. It has been farmed and consumed for thousands of years in that area, but has only recently become more recognized worldwide. With its nutritional benefits, quinoa has become especially popular here in the United States in the 21st century.
Quinoa is a tall, flowering plant with edible seeds (that’s the part we eat!). In nature, the seeds have a bitter coating to repel animals, but the quinoa we buy at the grocery store has this coating removed. It’s also highly recommended for the home chef to thoroughly rinse quinoa before cooking; this will further reduce bitter residue on the seeds.
White quinoa, black quinoa, yellow quinoa, and red quinoa varieties are available at many grocery stores and versatile in all kinds of recipes. These days, you can find quinoa flour, quinoa pasta, quinoa tortillas, and even quinoa candy at health food stores such as Whole Foods.
What Brand of Quinoa Is Gluten-Free?
Quinoa is naturally gluten-free. However, if you want to be confident that the quinoa you pick up at the store has not been cross-contaminated during manufacturing, look for packaging that carries a “certified gluten-free” label. This indicates that the quinoa has not been cross-contaminated and that it clocks in at less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, the FDA requirement for gluten-free foods. Also, watch out for quinoa products that are actually a blend with other grains and may include gluten ingredients.
These brands carry quinoa in packaging clearly marked as gluten-free:
Store brand quinoa is also likely to be gluten-free. Check the packaging to make sure!
Yes, quinoa is a great substitute for gluten grains, so it’s ok for gluten intolerance, celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Quinoa is a super food laden with protein, fiber, and nutrients. Plus, it’s compatible with so many recipes!
There are many wonderful gluten-free grains to choose from! Quinoa, brown rice, white rice, millet, buckwheat, corn, amaranth, and oats* are great choices for a gluten-free diet.
*Please note that oats can be a little tricky because of the likelihood of cross-contamination. Click here for more information about safely eating oats if you’re gluten-free.
There is no problem with eating quinoa every day. In fact, studies have shown that eating a moderate amount of quinoa daily may lead to health improvements such as weight loss and reduced risk of heart disease!
Quinoa is a source of fiber, protein, iron, essential amino acids, and several important vitamins and minerals. Include quinoa in a well-rounded diet that also provides plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and you’ve got a recipe for good health.
For good-tasting quinoa, make sure to rinse it thoroughly before boiling. This will remove traces of the bitter coating natural to quinoa. Because quinoa is tiny, and likely to slide through the slits in a standard colander, you’ll want to use a fine-mesh strainer for rinsing.
In addition, many home chefs like to toast their quinoa before boiling- this will bring out the nutty flavor and improve texture as well. To toast your quinoa, place it in a saucepan over medium heat and stir continually for about five minutes or until it starts to brown. Immediately remove from heat to prevent burning, and proceed to boil the quinoa as indicated on the package.
The Bottom Line
Quinoa is a healthy food and an A+ substitute for wheat in a gluten-free diet. While quinoa is naturally gluten-free, it’s still smart to check packaging to make sure the quinoa you’re buying is certified gluten-free, coming in under 20 parts per million of gluten. Gluten-free certification guarantees that the quinoa has not undergone cross-contamination during the packaging process, and it verifies that, if you’re buying a mixed-grain product, gluten-containing foods have not been added.
There are one million and one ways to enjoy quinoa! Getting tired of rice every night? Lay down a bed of quinoa for your proteins and veggies. Need to reinvigorate your salad game? Many excellent salads feature quinoa as well- served warm or chilled.
Quinoa can also be blended into a flour, then used as a substitute for wheat flour (often combined with other gluten-free flours) in pancakes, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, and all kinds of baked goods.
Whether you’re just getting started with quinoa, or it’s an old friend that you’d like to introduce to a new recipe, try these recipes for the best quinoa salad, skillet southwestern chicken & quinoa. This slow-cooker moroccan chicken is also delicious over quinoa.