Cooking Quinoa

by Allergy Guy

washing quinoa

Cooking quinoa is easy, but there is an important step you must follow, or you risk developing a sensitivity or allergy to quinoa.

Quinoa is a very nutritious grain, and an ideal food as part of a gluten free diet.  It is very popular with celiacs and those with a gluten allergy.

However, a small minority of people report becoming sick after eating quinoa, usually after consuming it for some time.  This is a real shame, as quinoa is very tasty, extremely nutritious, and easy to cook.  It is versatile, and can be used in many ways.

The most likely problem is saponin, which protects the plant from insect and fungal attack.  This is a soapy substance which can be washed out of the quinoa pseudograin.  It has a bitter taste, and possible minor toxic effects.

Because of the bitter taste and possible toxicity, it is important that you wash out most saponin before cooking the quinoa.  It certainly is not a very dangerous substance, nor is it as bitter as fish bile, so you do not have to take the same care with washing your quinoa as you would with preparing a puffer fish or something.

Washing Quinoa

There are several ways to wash quinoa.

You can put it into a sieve, one with a fine enough mesh to trap even the smallest seeds.  Then run it under the tap, shaking the sieve gently from side to side, until the water runs clear.

Or you can immerse the sieve in a big bowl of water.  Rub the seeds with your fingers to help shift the saponin.  Repeat two or three times until the water is clear and no foam forms on the surface.

Or you can put the quinoa in a blender with some water, and pulse it a few times to agitate the mixture, but not actually chop up the seeds.  Drain it through a sieve.

Cooking Quinoa

Put quinoa in a pot, with water in a 1:2 ratio (twice as much water).  It takes approximately 12 minutes to cook.  Allow a little longer (15 minutes or so) if cooking with other acidic ingredients.

A dash of salt brings out the flavor, although some people prefer to cook without salt and are used to the reduced flavor.


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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Will June 13, 2017 at 00:13

I’ve eaten Quinoa for a few years without any trouble. No longer. Now every time I eat Quinoa for dinner I get sick the next morning. I vomit and have horrible diarrhea for several hours having to go to the bathroom 10 to 20 times.

I’ve been sick on and off for the last month and just recently figured out that it was the Quinoa making me sick. I googled it and sure enough many other people suffered in the same way I have.

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2 Allergy Guy June 13, 2017 at 08:32

I used to eat quinoa regularly but started feeling off after eating it. I gave it a rest for a few years and have come back to it without a problem.

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3 teresa February 28, 2017 at 12:47

I had quinoa this morning and approximately one hour later I was sick to my stomach and had diarrhea. After tea, crackers and pepto, I finally started feeling better in two hours.
This is the second time I have had quinoa and the same thing happened before however I thought it was a different cause. Now I know and will stay clear of this seed.

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4 Danielle April 11, 2016 at 09:08

It doesn’t matter how well you prepare it, you can still get sick. Plus, some products have it as a secret ingredient (usually the ones who brag about “ancient grains” and “gluten free”). My mother got VIOLENTLY sick for days before realizing the “healthy” tortilla chips she bought had quinoa in them. I’m not talking itching and mild allergy symptoms. I’m talking symptoms of food poisoning.

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5 Gail April 26, 2015 at 16:45

I just spent the afternoon in the emergency room because I was completely covered in hives and was concerned about anaphylaxis. I have never had a reaction to food before, only insect stings. I had fixed a lovely breakfast with rolled oats and other rolled grains plus quinoa, dried fruits and apple chunks. An hour later I was having heartburn and then my hands starting itching terribly. When I checked the mirror I noticed the beginnings of a rash that within a half hour was completely covering my torso. Then my feet became so intensely itchy I thought I would go mad! Since I live a half hour out of town I decided to drive to the emergency room. I thought that my throat was starting to close but the doctor said that it wasn’t swollen so I think it was irritated it by the heartburn. They gave me intravenous Benedryl and a steroid and famotidine (Pepcid).
I was so shocked that I could be having a reaction to food that I was afraid to eat anything until I could get some answers (after eating a wide variety of fruits, nuts and grains for 60 years I thought I would never have this problem). As I examined what I had eaten, the quinoa was the only thing that I had never prepared before. I didn’t realize that it was suppose to be washed first. I know that I have had quinoa in commercially prepared foods so I originally discounted it as a problem until I began reading about it on your site. Thank you for sharing, it makes it easier to identify the culprit. Now I can eat again!

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6 nd fan April 6, 2015 at 16:04

I have become VIOLENTLY ill twice now after eating quinoa. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and vertigo. I still had symptoms a week later. Nothing else was different in my diet. Never again.

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7 Doreen February 26, 2015 at 07:26

I was never crazy about quinoa but I am trying to eat wheat free ,not for any medical reason. Made some quinoa patties and arugula on the side and about an hour after I ate started to feel really bloated and nauseous. Tried to lie down and started to get sharp pains in my back and very gassy. I felt so terrible I thought I might have to go to hospital. Please note that both qunoa and arugula were organic. The pain and bloating finally subsided. I did not connect it to the food but thought it may have been arugula as it is spicy. I ate the same thing the next night and it all reoccurred. I decided not to eat either of these foods again but tonite my daughter made a casserole with quinoa and I ate it. Her recipe said to rinse it. I never did this step but it didn’t matter because here I lie in pain. I guess I can eat arugula now. Thanks for all the info. Looks like quinoa is off the menus for me.

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8 Glenda February 25, 2015 at 12:25

I just noticed a weight gain every time I eat quinoa. Not really a large gain but just .5 to 1.0 lbs that could not be explained by anything else. This happened about 6 times before I connected the dots. At first I thought the gain might have been from the black beans I had combined with it. Then it happened without the beans and then again with vegetables. So, I checked out this web site and found I was not washing it before I was cooking it. I will try again but think I just might have a problem with all grains. I have been gluten free for about 9 months and mostly off grains but it seems that when I introduce most new grains there is a reaction. Usually a weight gain that goes away when I stop the grain.

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9 Allergy Guy March 1, 2015 at 16:38

Interesting … doesn’t sound allergy-related though. I’d suggest you see a nutritionist to get a full picture of what you eat and how your over-all diet affects your weight and health etc. if that interests you.

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10 Nicholas Bodley February 15, 2015 at 17:32

Please fix a silly-looking typo: “….bit bowl of water…”, in “Washing Quinoa¨.

Also, last few words, “…tot he…”

I’ve had some nasty reactions to quinoa, and the companies mho provide it for retail sale are being irresponsible and self-defeating by not making clear on the box that it must be washed.

The scheme you mention, putting quinoa into a sieve, then dunking it in a big bowl of water, works nicely for washing many sorts of items.

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11 gemma May 16, 2014 at 13:17

Iloved quinoa ithelped me stay satisfied when on my gluten free diet HOWEVER after about two months i developed a huge coldsore on my lip that stayed put for three months until i realised it was the quinoa!. I stopped eating and it went then i decided to try eating quinoa again about two months later and it immediately came back i couldn’t believe it. This time was worse though i had breathing difficulties and had to sit down during a daily usual walk. I also became seriously emotional and was crying a lot. I had a ongoiing ache in my right side also and always felt weirdly over full. It’s such a tastey substitute for gluten im so sad it causes such a reaction in me.

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12 WendyM November 5, 2013 at 04:25

I’ve been very careful with washing the quinoa but I am sitting here, three days, after eating it with belly ache. I have IgE mediated allergies to house dust mite, milk, soya, ect. The first six times I ate it I was ok then it started. Hot flushing in my chest/torso with cold hands and feet, cramping tummy. The first couple of days, I was bathroom bound. This is the second and last time I will eat this as the reaction is getting stronger each time. I’m on antihistamine 24/7 year round with pulses of steroid for my asthma. Allergies are a nightmare!

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13 Liz September 21, 2013 at 06:54

Can anyone help me assess if my symptoms may be due to quinoa? A couple of weeks after I tried quinoa for the first time and began to eat it regularly, I started getting little white bumps on my lips that come and go throughout the day. My lips feel raw, chapped and alternate between burning and tingling. My doctor is not sure what it is and we are waiting for a response from a dermatologist. I can’t seem to find anyone else who experienced these specific symptoms due to quinoa so I’m not sure if the connection is perhaps too far fetched. Any insight is appreciated!

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14 Allergy Guy September 21, 2013 at 11:43

A common mistake that people make when trying to diagnose their allergies is to look for specific symptoms that relate to some specific food or whatever. Your particular allergic reactions may be similar, no matter what food you eat, or they may vary, but could be completely different from another person’s symptoms to the same food.

What you need to look for is cause and effect. If you stop eating quinoa, do the symptoms go away? If you eat it again, do they return?

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15 John September 8, 2013 at 18:29

I recently cooked and ate some Quinoa. I noticed within two days of eating it, that I had these rash/red bumps on both my feet. I know it was Quinoa that caused that, but not sure what indredient was responsible.
A few years agi I had the exact same rash when I took Sufites.

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16 Susan September 9, 2013 at 11:58

I am allergic to wine and I know it is the sulfates in it that make me break out in hives but the quinoa reaction was very different than anything I have experienced with any other allergy. I have tried quinoa again since my original post, not often, in small quantities and extremely well soaked then washed. I have tolerated it this way. I will never try to eat it more than once a month, as the symptoms were truly horrible and it is not worth it.

Susan

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17 Allergy Guy September 9, 2013 at 13:51

Glad you’ve found a way to tolerate quinoa. If this continues to work, you just might be able to have it more often, but of course I understand that you don’t want to risk the horrible symptoms. Thanks for the update!

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18 DC January 3, 2013 at 07:37

Hi,

I just found this site. I recently figured out that I am gluten intolerant. I have yet to be tested for celiac. My symptoms are not gi-related. I get migraines when I consume gluten, which is probably why it took me 7 years to figure it out.

I had quinoa last night, thinking it would be a safe grain. However I woke this morning with a mild migraine, which has me doubting whether I can eat quinoa.

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19 Vince July 20, 2012 at 12:36

I tried Quinoa for the first time last night. I threw cold cooked quinoa in a bowl with milk, raisins, walnuts and a little sugar – sort if a quick quinoa pudding. It was delicious. I went to bed one hour later and woke up 6 hours later sweating, nauseous. I had to vomit but only had the dry heaves. I laid in bed for the remainder of the day dizzy and sick.

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20 Susan July 9, 2012 at 11:43

Hi all,

I have been feeling very ill for the past few days , today was worse than yesterday as I had no clue it was a reaction to the quinoa I had been eating and have eaten it three times in the past two days.
I only just discovered this magical super food, and had been eating it here and there usually for dinner I really love the taste and texture and i am so sad that my system seems unable to tolerate it.
I don’t remember feeling sick after the first few times eating it and I purchased it in a box from Trader Joes don’t remember the brand at the moment.
My symptoms are severe fatigue and all over pain in my joints, back neck,fingers etc. I have been very gassy with some stomach pain. At first it felt like the flu but after a while the thought came to me that I felt as though I had been poisoned, the only thing I had both days was the quinoa It may or may not be the problem but I thought I would share I don’t think I will take a chance on it.

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21 MB February 7, 2013 at 12:25

Hi Susan,
I have been having the same reaction, but just all of a sudden. I have been eating the Trader Joe’s organic quinoa in a box for over a year and never have been affected. I then sent my boyfriend to the store in December and he got ‘Organic White Quinoa’ in a bag. I made a big batch last month and was getting the worst stomach pains I have ever experienced after having it with my lunch for a week. I thought it was something else, but then I made it last night and it happened again. I was in so much pain that I finally just had to throw up. I am so sad because I LOVE it and thought I had finally found a great alternative to rice. I am going to do a little more research to find out if there is a difference in the two Trader Joe’s carries.

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22 Nofar June 29, 2012 at 17:31

Quinoa relapse moment just now…
After years of eating and enjoying quinoa just fine, I started having severe stomach cramps after eating quinoa. I once tested it with only one spoon of quinoa and ended up with the same excruciating pain that lasts for hours. And sadly, as I am writing this, I’m suffering after eating a bite of a vegan pizza that only later I discovered was made with a small portion of quinoa flour. has anyone ever had this kind of reaction from the flour itself? ughhhh..I hate this!

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23 sugarfoot December 27, 2012 at 19:50

I do… I ate it for 5+ years with no reaction. I just started getting a reaction about 2 years ago. Today I ate some 365 brand chips and started getting the same reaction– an awful ache/burn through my entire torso and nausea. I had glanced at the ingredients to check for quinoa flour but didn’t look hard enough– it was almost the last ingredient. Awful. I used to love this stuff.

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24 Sandy June 13, 2012 at 15:36

My friends and family LOVE quinoa and I don’t know anyone else besides me who has had a reaction. I have always gotten stomach aches after eating quinoa. The last two times I tried it I ended up sick (diarrhea and vomiting). I see that it is high in phenylalanine (amino acid), and this is taken from a recent NYT article about sweeteners–turns out that amino acid is also in aspartame.
“. . . about 1 in 25,000 in the United States — have a genetic condition that prevents them from metabolizing one of the amino acids, phenylalanine, and those people are warned away from aspartame.”

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25 Elizabeth June 7, 2012 at 00:41

I tried Quinoa 3 days ago for the first time. I purchased it in bulk (big bin) from my health food store. I rinsed it in a fine mesh strainer and “thought” I did it correctly. I’ve had it everyday now for 3 days (1 – 1 & 1/2 cups usually per day) and I started feeling a little gasy the first day, more the second day combined with slight nausea. This morning (day 3) I woke up with itchy hands/feet and arms – never once suspecting it might be the Quinoa allergy. I had yet another cup for lunch today and now, several hours the itching has increased to pretty much all-over my body! So crazy! That was my “ah-ha” moment, never would I have imagined this awesome food could cause allergies! So sad 🙁 I love Quinoa and introduced it for extra protein since I’m pregnant (37 weeks). I think I’ll give it a break and after baby comes give it another shot AFTER and only after I remove the outer casing. Wish me luck! 😉

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26 Kate May 6, 2012 at 11:09

I’ve only just started using quinoa but haven’t used the grains yet, only the flour, and have made a wonderful cake with a mix of almond meal and quinoa flour. It set beautifully, rose quite nicely and didn’t flop in the middle as do almond meal cakes most of the time for me when cool. My quinoa cake retained its shape after cooling. Pity I didn’t note the quantity of each ingredient. I just added/mised until I had the right consistency. Fortunately I didn’t have any adverse reactions, so I intend introducing quinoa gradually into my diet, because I’m rather bored with soya flour muffins/breads/pancakes and almond meal as well (except for almond meal bread with chopped pecans and honey, raisins and yoghurt – yum). I shall have to take note of the quantities I use in my next attempt at baking with quinoa flour.

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27 Allergy Guy May 6, 2012 at 17:00

Hi Kate,

Glad to hear about your success with quinoa! Do please share the perfected recipe if you are so inclined!

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28 Marja April 26, 2012 at 06:59

4 days ago I woke up with itching around my back, neck, ears, forehead en arms. Little red bumps are appearing now. When I’m sweating it stings. I think that quinoa is the cause. I ate this for the first time 5 days ago and the next day and the next day (and I ate a lot, because I loved it so much). After reading this, I’m not going to eat it anymoren, see what happens. If the itching goes away I will try quinoa again in a month. I didnt rinse it very well by the way, next tiime I will!!!

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29 Hailey December 6, 2014 at 15:50

I also suffer from Quinoa Allergies…same symptoms as Marja! I broke down in hives all over my arms, legs and face…even a tiny bit causes this reaction…I even ate again since I wanted to make sure it was an allergic reaction to it…such a shame!

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