Symptoms, substitutes and what to avoid


Andean millet is a type of seed that has a granular texture. Though considered an ancient crop grown in South America, it has recently grown in popularity due to its high nutritional value and potential health benefits, sustainability, and gluten-free properties. It provides many nutrients such as protein, heart-healthy fats, fiber, iron, antioxidants, and potassium.

While a quinoa allergy is not common, some people are sensitive to saponin, a naturally occurring chemical found on the outside of the quinoa seed. This article discusses quinoa or saponin allergy symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and substitutes when quinoa needs to be eliminated from your diet.

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Symptoms of a quinoa allergy can be common Food allergy symptoms and reactions such as:

  • skin: hives, eczemaswelling around the lips or mouth
  • stomach or intestines: Upset stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or Diarrhea
  • Eyes: redness, itching, tearing and swelling
  • Airway: wheezing, coughing, runny nose, or difficulty swallowing (these symptoms can also be a sign of a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis)


anaphylaxis is a serious, life-threatening disease with common symptoms such as:

  • Pale skin tone
  • hives
  • itching
  • panting, shortness of breathor gasp for air
  • Low blood pressure
  • Cannot speak more than a word or two
  • Pursing lips to breathe
  • Using the neck muscles to breathe

If you have symptoms of anaphylaxis after consuming quinoa, seek medical attention immediately. It is appropriate to call 911 for emergency treatment.

Link between quinoa allergy and saponin

There have been very few reports of allergic reactions to quinoa in medical journals. Based on the limited studies available, researchers believe that allergic reactions to quinoa may actually be caused by saponin, the naturally occurring chemical that coats quinoa seeds.

Store-bought quinoa is usually pre-rinsed, which helps remove all or most of the saponin. However, it’s always good to soak, rinse, and wash quinoa to remove any remaining saponin residue. Rinsing the quinoa can also help remove its bitter taste and help the body better absorb nutrients from the seeds.

Other foods that contain saponins

Saponin is also found in legumes, lentils and chickpeas, so always wash and rinse these foods thoroughly before eating.


If you suspect a food allergy, use a journal to keep track of the foods you consume and when you’re experiencing symptoms. Although a quinoa allergy is very rare, it is possible. Always consult a healthcare professional, such as an allergist or immunologist, to confirm your allergy. Diagnosis of food allergies may include multiple tests. The usual allergy testing are skin prick tests and blood tests.


The standard Treatment of a food allergy is not to eat the foods you are allergic to.

However, if you accidentally consume quinoa and experience a mild to moderate reaction, you can take an over-the-counter (OTC) medication to relieve symptoms, such as: antihistamines. If your reaction is severe, such as anaphylaxis (a whole-body immune response), seek medical attention immediately. It is appropriate to call 911 for emergency treatment.

If you are not allergic to quinoa but are sensitive to saponins, wash the quinoa thoroughly before eating. There are several food processing techniques that manufacturers use to remove saponin from quinoa that may remove more saponin, such as: B. Pre-rinse. Referring to the quinoa packaging will help ensure the proper cleaning and cooking process.

What to avoid

If you think you are allergic to quinoa, it is best to eliminate or avoid the food until you consult a doctor for a proper allergy diagnosis.

Quinoa can be added to many different foods for its nutritional benefits, including high protein and fiber content. Quinoa is sometimes used on its own as a side dish, but because it’s a flavorless food, it’s an ingredient that can hide in:

  • bread
  • Muesli
  • granola bar
  • smoothie
  • Plant-based protein powder

It is important to know how to read a food allergy ingredient label carefully to confirm whether the ingredient has been added. If you are in a restaurant, inform the waiter of your allergy and ask them to check if there is quinoa in the dish before ordering.

cross reactivity

If you are allergic to quinoa or saponins, there is a small chance that other foods with similar proteins will also cause an allergic reaction due to cross-reactivity. There isn’t much research to support which foods can cross-react with quinoa. A study showed cross-reactivity with peanuts and tree nuts. However, this study was conducted in rats, so its results may not apply to humans.

What is cross reactivity?

Cross-reactivity is when two seemingly different foods contain similar proteins, which can result in an allergic reaction to both. An allergist or immunologist can help diagnose these complicated allergies and/or reactions.

Quinoa Substitute

There are several substitutes for quinoa. Because quinoa has a mild, slightly nutty flavor and light, fluffy texture, you can use any of these ingredients in place of quinoa in a recipe:

  • Rice: All types of rice are gluten free and a great substitute for quinoa as they have a neutral taste and similar nutritional value in terms of fiber and calories. Although rice isn’t a complete protein like quinoa, protein sources like meat or beans can be added to boost the protein content.
  • Barley: Barley is a whole grain and contains gluten. It has a similar nutty flavor to quinoa, meaning it’s a great flavor substitute, but it’s not for those with celiac disease. Barley also contains nutrients like fiber and potassium.
  • Couscous: Couscous is a dish made from semolina. Semolina is a form of wheat, which doesn’t make couscous gluten-free. Couscous is pearly in shape and has a texture similar to quinoa. People without celiac disease can use couscous as a substitute for quinoa in a dish. Couscous contains many vitamins and minerals.

When to see a healthcare provider

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a food allergy you should contact your healthcare team for a proper diagnosis. If you have symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek medical attention immediately. It is appropriate to call 911 for emergency treatment.


Quinoa is a food with a unique nutty flavor and a nutritional powerhouse. It is a plant-based source of complete protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. Although quinoa allergies are very rare, food allergies can occur to any food and precautions should be taken in case you encounter any food allergy symptoms.

There are many possible substitutes for quinoa, including rice, which is also gluten-free, or couscous or barley, which contain gluten. If you suffer from a food allergy, it is important that you contact your doctor immediately.

A word from Verywell

Food allergies can cause a frightening reaction, and it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint the cause of the symptoms. Learning what allergy symptoms to look for and how to treat an allergic reaction quickly can be empowering.

You can also practice reading ingredient labels or telling waiters about your food allergies when eating out. In addition to visiting a healthcare professional, support can be found in groups (in person or virtually) through the Food Allergy Research and Awareness Organization (FARE).

frequently asked Questions

  • Is Quinoa Allergy Common in Children?

    Quinoa allergies are very rare. Overall, food allergies are more likely to occur in children and babies, but can occur at any age.

  • Does quinoa contain histamine?

  • Does Quinoa Cause Gas and Stomach Pain?

    Allergic reaction symptoms can manifest as gastric or intestinal reactions, e.g. B. Upset stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting Diarrhea. If you are allergic to quinoa, you may experience these symptoms and need to see your doctor.

Verywell Health uses only quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. Read ours editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check our content and keep it accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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Through Rebecca Valdez, MS, RDN

Rebecca Valdez is a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Communications Consultant passionate about nutrition equity, equity and sustainability.


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