Is Quinoa Gluten Free? Not All Are Created Equal

I have experienced digestive reactions in some quinoa products, but not others. Since I am often asked, is quinoa gluten free, I thought I would share the most recent study on this very subject. The study was performed in the U.K. by the Division of Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences, Department of Gastroenterology at King’s College London, one of the world’s leading research and teaching universities. Their findings were very interesting, and resolved my confusion on the subject. In Dr. Vikki Petersen’s video (bottom of this page), she further clarifies some things for us.

Image: Quinoa

Fifteen species of quinoa were tested. Four showed similar to how gluten free products containing below 20 ppm (parts per million) gluten effect those with celiac disease. Two others showed effects in celiac disease patients similar to those products consumed above the 20 ppm level, causing an immune reaction in some celiacs. The allowed European limit for gluten in products is 20 ppm, and the proposed allowed amount by the U.S. FDA is also 20 ppm.

The 2 particular “species”, also referred to as “cultivars”, are Ayacuchana and Pasankalla. I would assume once the word spreads about this throughout the gluten free community, those now armed with this knowledge will be contacting manufacturers to find out which species of quinoa are used in their products. This will in turn cause manufacturers to contact their sources, who will need to contact their sources. So, please give them some time to get back to you with an answer.

FDA Studies on Gluten Free Grains Compared to Wheat Grains and Substitutes for Quinoa

Quinoa is a vital nutrient to those with celiac disease, as most gluten free products and baked goods are high in starch. As a whole grain, quinoa provides with protein and fiber, replacing much of the nutrients we lose while on a gluten free diet. The FDA guidelines for nutrition suggests consuming 3 servings of whole grains per day. Quinoa is one the gluten free whole grains, similar to wheat. In fact, the FDA performed a study comparing 2 grains derived from wheat: spelt and Kamut® with 3 that were gluten free: amaranth, quinoa and teff.

The results reported by the FDA:

All of the grains were high in protein, ranging in content from 13.3% for teff to 14.7% for Kamut®. Amaranth and quinoa contained over 6% fat compared to about 2% fat in the other three grains. Total dietary fiber content ranged from about 7% in amaranth and quinoa to over 10% in spelt. The vitamin and mineral content of these five grains is usually at least as high, and in many cases higher, than in regular wheat.

In light of the above, you may conclude that good substitutes for quinoa would be amaranth and teff. However, the study did not include such grains as millet and sorghum, as they had already studied those grains. Therefore, I share some of the results from that study below. You may visit the link below to learn more.

The FDA’s study on sorghum and millet compared to whole wheat proceeded along the same lines as the first study, with 3 different brands purchased from several different retail outlets. In regards to protein, millet contained 10.75% and wheat 13.21%, with both higher than sorghum at 7.67%. Wheat and millet were similar in carbohydrates, with sorghum a bit higher. Wheat had a significantly higher amount of fiber than millet, and millet was much higher than sorghum.

Our possible conclusion above, with amaranth and teff may have been correct. An ideal situation may be a combined diet in both teff and amaranth. Amaranth is yellow in color, similar to millet, and though a little bit heavier, bakes very well. Teff is a much heavier grain, and is brown in color. It is best used in small amounts along with other gluten free flours and starches. I use about 2 tablespoons in some of my bread recipes, up to 1/4 cup. See my Gluten Free Teff Bread Recipe. And it’s awesome in my Soft Whole Grain Gluten Free Wraps / Tortillas. I am currently working on a gluten-free yeast-free bread recipe including both amaranth and teff flour. Stay tuned in.


Learn More and Watch a Video

Dr. Vikki Petersen, one of the monthly Gluten Free Recipe Box contributors explains this all to us in layman terms, without getting too scientific.

Please share this article with others in your gluten free circle so that others who may be suffering from the effects of quinoa may experience relief, and finally begin to heal.

To your health and happy gluten free cooking!

Carla Spacher


2 Replies to “Is Quinoa Gluten Free? Not All Are Created Equal”

  1. Some naturally GF foods are produced and stored in the same containers with wheat. That’s how gluten sometimes gets into foods.
    Like oats, oats can be GF if manufacturers don’t throw it in the same machine as wheat , rye and barley.

    1. Hi Snarl,

      You have a very good point. In addition, the main reason why most oats contain up to 10% wheat is they are often grown next to wheat fields. Another reason can be the trucks in which they are transported.

      Thank you for all of your comments.


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