How to Use Quinoa in Gluten-Free Recipes

How to Use Quinoa in Gluten-Free Recipes. Photo 2009 © Teri Lee Gruss, licensed to, Inc.

What is Quinoa (KEEN-wah)?

Quinoa (KEEN-wah) is the tiny seed of the "Chenopodium quinoa," a plant related to spinach, chard, and beets. It is native to South America and was a very important food source the ancient Inca civilization.

Today quinoa is grown in Canada and the U.S. as well as in South America. It's a popular alternative gluten-free "grain" because of its nutritional qualities.

Quinoa is an Excellent Source of "Complete Protein"

Quinoa is higher in protein than most "cereal" grains.

This means that quinoa contains all 9 essential amino acids that we need for health. The proteins in quinoa, unlike some plant proteins, are considered to be highly digestible, similar to the digestibility of the proteins in milk.

Quinoa Contains Healthy Fats

Quinoa is a good plant source of "essential fatty acids"- omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. It's also a good source of Vitamin E, an important antioxidant.

Mineral Content of Quinoa

Quinoa is particularly high in manganese and is also a good source of magnesium, iron, and copper. Manganese and copper are necessary for the function of a very powerful antioxidant called superoxide dismutase.

Quinoa is Lower in Carbs than Most GF Grains

1 cup of quinoa contains 109 grams of carbohydrates. In comparison 1 cup of white rice contains 148 grams of carbs and sorghum contains 143 grams. If you are trying to lower the carb content of your gluten-free diet, try substituting part of the rice or sorghum in recipes with quinoa.

Source: USDA Agriculture Research Service Nutrient Data Laboratory

Oxalates in Quinoa

Quinoa, like spinach, berries, nuts, beans, grains, chocolate and black tea is high in oxalates, a group of "organic acids." A low-oxalate diet is prescribed for several health conditions including a tendency to form kidney stones.

If you are on a low-oxalate diet, you should discuss the potential effects of adding quinoa to your diet with your physician.

Saponins in Quinoa

Quinoa seeds contain a bitter-tasting substance called "saponin" which needs to be thoroughly rinsed off before cooking with whole quinoa seeds. The easiest way to rinse quinoa seeds is to place them in a mesh strainer and rinse under cool water until the foamy residue disappears.

How is Quinoa Sold?

Quinoa is sold in health food stores and some large mainstream grocery stores as a whole grain, flakes, flour and in pasta products. Quinoa is available in a range of seed colors from orange, pink and yellow to purple and black. Yellow to light, creamy-colored seeds and flours are the variety most commonly available in gluten-free products.

Some stores sell whole quinoa seeds in bulk bins. It's best not to purchase any gluten-free grains from bulk bins because of the risk of cross-contamination with gluten- containing grains.

Cooking with Quinoa

  • Cook 1/2 cup whole, rinsed quinoa in 1 cup of water for about 15 minutes for a creamy, nutty-tasting high protein breakfast cereal.
  • Quinoa flakes can be used as a fast-cooking cereal and can be added to pancake and waffle recipes.
  • Substitute whole cooked quinoa for rice in rice pilaf recipes and bulgur in tabouleh recipes.
  • Add quinoa flour to gluten-free flour mixes to improve the protein, mineral, and fiber content.
  • Quinoa reduces the volume of yeast breads and is best used in small amounts in leavened bread recipes but works well in GF recipes for cookies, muffins, pancakes and pizza dough.

Gluten-Free Recipes with Quinoa

Pseudocereals and Less Common Cereals - Grain Properties and Utilization Potential, Peter Belton, John Taylor, Springer, Berlin, 2002, pp. 93-118