Quinoa is a small, round, grain-like food that actually belongs to the fruit family. Because of its appearance, many nutritionists describe quinoa as a pseudo-cereal. It is often called a superfood because it is rich in protein.
While a quinoa allergy is relatively rare, it is important to recognize symptoms of an allergic reaction and take appropriate steps.
Symptoms of a quinoa allergy
A quinoa allergy may cause breathing difficulties.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, food allergies affect an estimated 4–6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults in the country.
If a person has a serious allergic reaction after coming into contact with quinoa, symptoms usually occur right away.
Symptoms of a severe allergy to quinoa may include:
These symptoms can show that a person has anaphylaxis, which is a medical emergency. Contact emergency services immediately, or ask someone else to.
Some people experience reactions that are less severe. Their symptoms may include:
- difficulty swallowing
- a hoarse throat
- a feeling of tightness in the throat
- stomach cramping
- swelling of the tongue
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology report that most people experience symptoms of a food allergy within 2 hours of consumption. In some cases, symptoms are delayed for 4–6 hours or longer.
Allergies can develop with age. A person who has enjoyed quinoa without issues in the past may suddenly notice an allergic reaction after eating the food.
What are some alternatives to quinoa?
Barley is a healthy alternative to quinoa.
Quinoa is often incorporated into foods such as salads, black bean burgers, pilafs, and soups. Also, people often use it as an alternative to rice or wheat.
Similar foods include:
People often substitute rice for quinoa in recipes. In breakfast dishes, steel-cut oats can replace quinoa.
Is there a link to saponins?
A person may not be allergic to quinoa, but to its saponins. These are chemicals in the fruit’s coating.
Saponins have a waxy texture that protects the plant from insects. Some people are especially sensitive to these chemicals, especially after repeated exposure.
If a person has a mild allergy, they may benefit from soaking the quinoa in water for 30 minutes, then rinsing it before cooking it. This can help to remove the saponins and prevent an allergic reaction.
Saponins are also present in soybeans, chickpeas, amaranth seeds, and legumes.
When to see a doctor
Quinoa allergies can be severe. Anyone who suspects that they are having an anaphylactic reaction should seek immediate medical assistance.
When symptoms are mild or moderate, a person can consult a doctor, who may refer them to a specialist, known as an allergist or immunologist. They may conduct testing to determine whether a person is truly allergic to quinoa or in fact experiencing reactions to more common allergens, such as milk, eggs, or peanuts.
While quinoa is a less common allergen, a doctor will consider a person’s symptoms, the timing of the reactions, and all potential triggers before making a diagnosis.
Foods to avoid
Read labels to avoid foods containing quinoa.
If a person has an allergy to quinoa they should check food labels carefully. Quinoa is often an ingredient in salads, and it is commonly used to help with the consistency and taste of non-meat burgers.
A sensitivity to quinoa may indicate that a person has sensitivities to similar foods, particularly apples. A 2018 review in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that sensitivity to quinoa was associated with sensitivity to apples in the 212 children tested.
For people with food allergies or sensitivities, it is important to be aware of similar foods that may cause issues.
If a person suspects that they have a quinoa allergy, avoiding the food is usually the most effective way to prevent a reaction.
An individual with a history of anaphylactic reactions may need to carry an epinephrine injector, better known by the brand name EpiPen. In the event of a reaction, using an injector can reduce symptoms until professional medical attention is available.
For people with milder allergies, it may be a good idea to soak and rinse quinoa before cooking it. This can help to determine whether a person is allergic to the quinoa or the saponins it contains.
People with allergies may still enjoy a range of alternatives to quinoa.