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Code: f347
Latin name: Chenopodium quinoa
Source material: Dried seeds
Family: Amaranthaceae (Chenopodiaceae)
Common names: Quinoa

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa") has been cultivated in the Andean highlands since 3,000 BC. Its small, very nutritious seeds resemble millet and are very versatile in cooking.

Chenopodium plants have characteristic leaves shaped like a goose foot. (The genus also includes a common weed, Goosefoot or Lamb's quarters.) Quinoa is a small seed that in size, shape, and colour looks like a cross between Sesame seed and Millet. It is usually a pale yellow colour, but species vary from almost white through pink, orange, red, purple and black. Quinoa is not a true cereal grain but is technically a fruit of the Chenopodioideae subfamily.

Quinoa is a versatile ingredient, and the dishes it features in range from staple foods to spicy delicacies. Quinoa flour, ground from whole seeds, has a delicate, nutty flavour. A gluten-free product, it is suitable for anyone afflicted by Wheat allergies. Quinoa seeds are naturally coated with a bitter-tasting saponin that protects them from birds and insects.

No allergens from this plant have yet been characterised.

Potential cross-reactivity

An extensive cross-reactivity among the different individual species of the genus could be expected but has not been described to date (1). Closely related family members include the weed Goosefoot or Lamb's quarters, which may be of relevance for pollen exposure.

Clinical Experience

IgE-mediated reactions
Quinoa may rarely induce symptoms of food allergy in sensitised individuals.

Other reactions
Saponin, a component of the pericarp of Quinoa seed, is a known toxic glycoside. Saponin can be found in the pericarp of several other species such as Alfalfa, Hops, and Soybean and is easily identified by production of a soapy lather when placed in water, and by solubility in pure alcohol. It also gives unwashed Quinoa a bitter flavour and has antinutritional properties.
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman, harris@zingsolutions.com


  1. Yman L. Botanical relations and immuno-logical cross-reactions in pollen allergy. 2nd ed. Pharmacia Diagnostics AB. Uppsala. Sweden. 1982: ISBN 91-970475-09

As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.