Quinoa flour and gluten intolerance

During my search for alternatives to wheat flour, my girlfriend brought to my attention the plant quinoa . She is vegetarian and makes good use of its excellent nutritional values. I have to say that until then, I had never heard of this South American pseudo-cereal.

Quinoa is a plant from the Chinopodium family which includes beets and spinach. It is a native of South America and was domesticated about 5000BC near the Lake Titicaca in the Andes. Quinoa was the staple food of the Incas, second in importance only to the potato. It is still widely used in Peru and throughout the Andes. The Chinopodium Quinoa is extremely tolerant to drought and frost. It also has the ability to grow on poor soil and at high altitudes.

The quinoa plant produces a small grain of spherical shape sized between 1 and 3 mm across. The outer pericarp of many varieties contains a bitter defensive compound called saponin.
Saponin is a glycosidic compound which works like a natural anti-biotic for the plant. It is not only present in the outer shell of quinoa, it’s also present in the shell of plants like yuca, soya beans, soapberry or the skin of grape and olives. It has a very bitter taste. Dissolved in water, it forms a soapy froth. This quality is used in detergent and shampoo. In the diet phytochemical saponins have a wide spectrum of activities such as anti-fungal, anti-bacterial agents, lowering of the blood cholesterol and the inhibition of cancer cells. But some saponins can be toxic such as the ones originated in the quinoa outer shell.

So before cooking quinoa you must remove this compound either by roasting the seeds briefly in a hot oven or by a brief washing and rubbing in cold water (like this Peruvian woman on the picture). You should be careful not to submit the seed to a prolongued soaking as the saponin could deposit itself within the seed.

Quinoa seeds and its flour has a very high nutritional value. Quinoa is composed of 10 to 18% of protein, 69% of carbohydrates and 6% of oil for 374 calories. What makes quinoa a valuable asset in a healthy diet is its protein content. All of the 12 essential amino-acids are represented. The protein breakdown is as follow : 0.48g phenylalanin, 0.88g isoleucin, 0.91g lysin, 0.98 leucin, 0.33g methionin, 1.02g arginin, 0.63g theonin, 0.85g valin, 0.15g tryptophan, 0.37g histidin, 0.39g tyrosin and 0.33g cystein. It is gluten free. It is also rich in folate, zinc, potassium, calcium and iron.

Quinoa flour is the most interesting substitute to wheat flour. Besides its high nutritional value, the quinoa flour is used in a wide range of baking and panfried dishes. In a proportion 2/3 quinoa flour, 1/3 rice flour it is possible to bake cakes such as chocolate fudge cake, on its own quinoa flour is traditionally used to bake flatbreads, such as tortilla or nachos. It can also replace wheat flour in the batter for sweet pancakes or waffles. It can be used to make baked oven chips. Unfortunately, it is not possible to bake yeast breads as quinoa flour lacks of elasticity and plasticity qualities which are essential in bread making.
The quinoa seeds are cooked like rice. It can be used as a base for a salad, added to soups or an accompaniment for meat or fish. It, also, can be popped like popcorn or toasted and used for the base of a herb crust. Finally it is used in some breakfast cereals blends.


  1. Anonymous said,

    Just the info I need for my friend with celiac disease. Thank you.

    on 20 September, 2007  

  2. I've yet to experiment with quinoa flour but I do love the seeds or grain in salads and pilafs. I've been experimenting with sprouting them as well lately, also very good!

    on 31 March, 2008  

  3. Anonymous said,

    I'm interested in making my own flour.
    From the information above I'm assuming the Quinoa needs to be roasted(to remove the saponin) before it can be ground. Is this correct??

    on 06 January, 2009  

  4. Yann_Chef said,

    It is correct. Quinoa has to be washed or roasted to destroy the saponins in the husk.

    on 06 January, 2009