How to Identify a Quinoa Allergy (2024)

Quinoa is a type of seed that has a grain-like texture. While it is considered an ancient crop cultivated in South America, it has become more popular in recent times 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 an allergy to quinoa isn’t common, some people are sensitive to saponin, a naturally occurring chemical found on the outside of the quinoa seed. This article will discuss symptoms of a quinoa or saponin allergy, diagnosis, treatment, and substitutes if quinoa needs to be eliminated from your diet.

How to Identify a Quinoa Allergy (1)


Symptoms of a quinoa allergy may include common food allergy symptoms and reactions such as:

  • Skin: Hives, eczema, swelling around the lips or mouth
  • Stomach or intestinal: Upset stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Eyes: Redness, itching, watering, and swelling
  • Airway: Wheezing, coughing, runny nose, or trouble swallowing (these symptoms may also be a sign of a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis)


Anaphylaxis is a serious, life-threatening medical condition with common symptoms of:

  • Pale skin color
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Wheezing, shortness of breath, or gasping for breath
  • Low blood pressure
  • Unable to speak more than one or two words
  • Pursing lips to breathe
  • Using neck muscles to take breaths

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

Link Between Quinoa Allergy and Saponin

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

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

More Foods That Contain Saponin

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


If you suspect a food allergy, use a journal to keep track of the foods you consume and notice when you are feeling symptoms. While quinoa allergy is very rare, it is possible. Always consult with a healthcare professional such as an allergist or immunologist to confirm your allergy. Diagnosing food allergies may include several tests. The most common allergy tests are skin prick tests and blood tests.


The standard treatment for a food allergy is to not eat the food you are allergic to.

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

If you are not allergic to quinoa but are sensitive to saponin, thoroughly wash the quinoa in preparation of eating it. There are different food processing techniques that manufacturers use to remove saponin from quinoa that may remove more saponin, such as prerinsing. Referencing the quinoa package will help ensure the proper cleaning and cooking process.

What to Avoid

If you think you may be allergic to quinoa, it is best to eliminate or avoid the food until consulting with a healthcare provider for a proper allergy diagnosis.

Quinoa may be added to many different foods because of its nutritional benefits, including high protein and high fiber. Quinoa is sometimes used alone as a side dish, however, as it is a neutral flavor food, it is an ingredient that can hide in:

  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Granola bars
  • Smoothies
  • Plant-based protein powders

It is important to know how to read an ingredients label for food allergies carefully to confirm if the ingredient has been added. If you are at a restaurant, inform the server of your allergy and ask them to check if quinoa is incorporated in the dish before ordering.


If you are allergic to quinoa or saponins, there is a small chance that other foods with similar proteins may also produce an allergic reaction due to cross-reactivity. There is not a lot of research to substantiate which foods may be cross-reactive with quinoa. One study demonstrated cross-reactivity with peanut and tree nuts. However, this study was done with rats, so its results may not be applicable to humans.

What Is Cross-Reactivity?

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

Quinoa Substitutes

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

  • Rice: All forms of rice are gluten free, and a great substitute for quinoa as they have a neutral taste and similar nutritional value relating to fiber and calories. Even though rice is not a complete protein like quinoa, sources of protein may be added such as meat or beans to increase the protein content.
  • Barley: Barley is a whole grain and contains gluten. It has a similar nutty flavor as quinoa, meaning it is a great taste substitute, but it is 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, making couscous not gluten free. Couscous has a pearl-like shape and a similar texture to quinoa. Those without celiac disease may use couscous in a dish as a substitute for quinoa. Couscous contains many vitamins and minerals.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

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


Quinoa is a food with a unique nutty taste and packs a nutritional punch. It's a plant source of complete protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. While quinoa allergies are very rare, food allergies can occur with any food, and precautions should be in place in case you do encounter food allergy symptoms.

There are many possible substitutes to quinoa, including rice which is also gluten free, or couscous or barley which contain gluten. If you're experiencing a food allergy, it is important to contact your healthcare provider immediately.

A Word From Verywell

Food allergies can cause a frightening reaction, and it is sometimes hard to determine the cause of the symptoms. Learning the allergy symptoms to be aware of and how to quickly treat an allergic reaction can be empowering.

You may also want to practice reading ingredient labels or telling servers of your food allergies when eating out. In addition to seeing a healthcare professional, support may be found in groups (in person or virtually) through the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is quinoa allergy common in kids?

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

  • Does quinoa contain histamine?

    Quinoa contains low levels of histamine and is compliant with a low-histamine diet for those with histamine intolerance.

  • Does quinoa cause gas and stomachaches?

    Allergic reaction symptoms may present as stomach or intestinal reactions, such as upset stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. If you are allergic to quinoa, you may experience these symptoms and need to meet with your medical provider.

How to Identify a Quinoa Allergy (2024)
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