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Is quinoa gluten-free?

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Updated October 26, 2011

Question: Is quinoa gluten-free?
Answer:

Yes, pure quinoa is gluten-free, making it safe for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity. However, that doesn't mean that all products containing quinoa are gluten-free — in fact, some are not.

Quinoa isn't really a grain — it's the seed of a plant that's related to spinach, not to wheat. Therefore, if you can find plain quinoa — whole or flour — that's labeled or certified gluten-free, it makes a perfect substitute for grain-based menu items. I've used it as whole-"grain" hot cereal (cook it as you would oatmeal), and ground into flour for flatbread.

Quinoa also makes decent pasta and a good base for cold cereal. I've seen it used in cold summer "grain"-based salads instead of bulgur wheat, and even in gluten-free flour blends for cakes and pastries.

Many — but not all — of the quinoa-based products on the market are considered gluten-free.

For example, Ancient Harvest makes a variety of safe quinoa products, including pasta that's based on quinoa and corn flours and made in a gluten-free facility. Orgran, another manufacturer of gluten-free products, makes gluten-free cereal, flatbread and multigrain crumbs with quinoa.

Bob's Red Mill makes quinoa flour in a gluten-free facility (although celiacs who can't tolerate oats should know that Bob's also processes its gluten-free oats in that facility). However, Bob's Red Mill also makes an organic 7-Grain Pancake Mix with quinoa ... and that mix is not gluten-free.

The bottom line is, you can't assume that products containing quinoa as their main ingredient are gluten-free, just as you can't assume products that contain rice or corn as their main ingredient are gluten-free. You always have to check the ingredient label for terms that mean gluten before buying anything.

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