Can you get sick from eating quinoa?

In this brief guide, we will provide an answer to the question “Can you get sick from eating quinoa?”. Moreover, we will review the possible symptoms of Quinoa allergy, saponin allergy, nutritional contents of quinoa, and foods that can be used as a substitute for quinoa.

Can you get sick from eating quinoa?

The obvious answer is yes, you can get sick from eating quinoa. Although it is a food with various nutritional benefits, it can cause stomach pain, itchy skin and other symptoms of food allergies to some people. 

The reason behind this is the presence of a compound named saponin, present in the seed as well as in its coating which can cause allergic reactions. 

Benefits of eating Quinoa

Quinoa has a number of health benefits. It is a protein-rich diet especially suitable for vegans. One cup of quinoa contains 8.1 grams of proteins., which is the same amount of proteins present in one large boiled egg. 

Cooked quinoa provides plenty of essential minerals including 318 milligrams of potassium, 118 milligrams of magnesium, 2 milligrams of zinc, and 2.8 milligrams of iron. It is also a good source of B vitamins, vitamin E, phosphorus, calcium and a few other antioxidants. 

Another advantage of quinoa is that it is a gluten-free food, so it is highly suitable for people with gluten intolerance

When cooked properly, it has a nutty flavour, it can be used as a breakfast cereal (cereal can go bad, so be careful) as an alternative to oats and can also be used in salads, soups and as a base for veggie burgers. 

Symptoms of Quinoa allergy

If you are allergic to quinoa, you may experience the following symptoms: 

  • Asthma-like symptoms including difficulty breathing, chest tightness, wheezing and coughing 
  • Inflammation of the digestive tract, lungs and skin
  • Itchy skin or hives
  • Eczema 
  • Nausea and/or vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea and/or stomach pain

In case of severe allergic reaction, symptoms usually are: 

  • Dull or pale skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Inability to breathe
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Facial swelling

What is saponin?

Saponin is a sour, soapy chemical found in quinoa that protects it from insects and fungal attacks. It also consists of toxic chemicals that lead to inflammation and other issues in some people. The toxicity level of this compound is low, therefore some people may be sensitive to saponin.

Saponin allergy

Many people report allergic reactions to quinoa. The reason behind this is the compound saponin that is present in the outer coating of quinoa. Additionally, these symptoms can be due to the presence of oxalates or protein present in the quinoa seed. 

If you are allergic to saponin, you can still consume quinoa as long as you thoroughly wash the seeds. Before cooking, soak it for almost 30 minutes and rinse it multiple times. This will aid in the removal of the saponin-containing natural covering.

How to Cook Quinoa

  1. Rinsing: Place the quinoa in a strainer and rinse for as long as 30 seconds under running water. Thoroughly drain it. This step removes any bitterness from the coating of the quinoa-caused by naturally present compounds saponins. 
  2. Cooking: In a saucepan, combine the washed quinoa and water. Boil the mixture on medium-high heat, then reduce to low heat to keep a soft simmer. Cook for almost 10 to 20 minutes, or until all of the water is absorbed by the quinoa (smaller amounts of quinoa will be prepared in almost 10 minutes; whereas larger amounts may take between 15 to 20 minutes). 
  3. Reduce the heat gradually to keep a mild simmer.
  4. Cover the pot, turn the flame off and set aside for 5 minutes to allow the quinoa to steam. This stage allows the quinoa to expand out into small curlicues, making it fluffy. With a fork, fluff the quinoa and remove the lid. In the end, season with salt to taste.

Shelf life of quinoa

  • Unpacked and uncooked packets of quinoa can last for almost three to four years. 
  • If packs are opened and kept in a refrigerator, they will last for two to three years.
  • Cooked quinoa, when place in a refrigerator will last for five to seven days. 

Foods that can be used as quinoa substitutes

If you are allergic to quinoa, you should not eat it. Instead, you can choose from plenty of other alternatives to quinoa, that will give you the same nutritional benefits and flavour that you want. Some of the best substitutes to quinoa include:

  • Buckwheat contains higher amounts of proteins and fibres than quinoa
  • Millet- contains good amounts of carbohydrates and antioxidants but have half the fibre contents as compared to quinoa
  • Barley- rich in potassium and fibres. Barley has lesser amounts of fats as compared to quinoa
  • Wheatberry rich in proteins like quinoa, but has lesser amounts of fats
  • Freekeh- rich in proteins and fibres.


In this short article, we have answered the query, “Can you get sick from eating quinoa?”. Moreover, we have discussed the possible symptoms of Quinoa allergy, saponin allergy, nutritional contents of quinoa, and foods that can be used as a substitute for quinoa. 


Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.