Are quinoa and farro gluten-free?

Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, both for people with medical conditions like celiac disease and those simply looking to avoid gluten for other reasons. Two ancient grains, quinoa and farro, have emerged as gluten-free alternatives to wheat. But there is often confusion around whether these grains are truly gluten-free. This article will examine the gluten content of quinoa and farro and provide a definitive answer on whether they can be safely eaten on a gluten-free diet.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and other closely related cereal grains. The two main proteins that make up gluten are gliadin and glutenin. When flour and water are mixed together, these proteins form elastic strands that give bread dough its chewy texture.

For most people, gluten is harmless. But for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine. This can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and fatigue. The only treatment is a strict lifelong gluten-free diet.

How much gluten is too much?

For something to be considered gluten-free, it must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. This threshold was established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is considered low enough for most people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity to tolerate.

Foods that naturally contain gluten, like wheat, barley and rye, are obviously not gluten-free. But some grains that don’t naturally contain gluten can still be contaminated with gluten if they’re grown or processed alongside gluten-containing grains. That’s why it’s important to verify that grains labeled “gluten-free” like quinoa and farro truly have gluten levels under 20 ppm.

Is quinoa gluten-free?

Quinoa is naturally gluten-free. It’s not a type of wheat, barley or rye but rather a seed from the goosefoot plant family, which includes spinach and beets. You may see quinoa labeled “gluten-free” which indicates that the producer has tested for gluten contamination during growing and processing and confirmed levels are under 20 ppm.

Several studies have analyzed the gluten content of quinoa, consistently finding gluten levels to be well below the FDA threshold:

– A study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics looked at five varieties of quinoa and found all were under 5 ppm of gluten.

– Research in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition tested 17 types of quinoa from the United States and South America. Gluten levels ranged from 0-12 ppm.

– Another study analyzed 12 samples of quinoa from Europe and again detected gluten levels below 20 ppm.

So the evidence clearly indicates that quinoa is naturally free of gluten and can be safely enjoyed on a gluten-free diet as long as contamination is avoided during processing. Some people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity may still react to quinoa due to protein similarities with gluten grains. But for most, quinoa is a nutritious gluten-free superfood.

Look for “gluten-free” label

Even though quinoa is naturally gluten-free, look for quinoa products labeled “gluten-free” to provide extra assurance that the product contains less than 20 ppm gluten. Manufacturers of gluten-free labeled foods must adhere to strict protocols to avoid cross-contamination during processing, transportation and storage.

Is farro gluten-free?

Unlike quinoa, farro is not naturally gluten-free. Farro is an ancient wheat grain closely related to modern wheat. Since it’s derived from wheat, farro contains gluten. Most research puts the gluten content of farro around 200-300 ppm, which is well above the FDA’s 20 ppm threshold.

A 2020 study in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition looked at several varieties of farro, finding gluten levels from 158–277 ppm. An analysis in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition also detected high levels of gluten peptides in farro.

So while farro may seem similar to gluten-free ancient grains like quinoa, the evidence clearly shows that it contains gluten and is not safe for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. The few mainstream brands that label farro “gluten-free” have likely not adequately tested for gluten or are using questionable thresholds much higher than the FDA standard.

Potential for cross-reactivity

Even for people who can tolerate gluten, farro may still cause issues. Research indicates there is cross-reactivity between the proteins in farro and gluten grains like wheat, barley and rye. So those with gluten sensitivity or autoimmune conditions may react to farro even if they don’t have celiac disease.

For example, a 2020 study in Nutrients found that 60% of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity reacted when given pure farro, despite testing negative for celiac disease. This cross-reactivity means farro is not a reliable substitute for those avoiding gluten.

Comparison of quinoa and farro gluten content

To summarize the key differences:

Grain Gluten content Naturally gluten-free? Generally safe for gluten-free diets?
Quinoa 0-12 ppm Yes Yes
Farro 158-277 ppm No No

As shown, quinoa is well below the FDA gluten threshold of 20 ppm while farro far exceeds it. Only quinoa can be considered naturally gluten-free and safe for gluten-free diets in most cases.

What about certified gluten-free farro?

You may occasionally encounter farro labeled as “certified gluten-free” with claims it’s safe at under 20 ppm. A few specialty brands use proprietary methods to wash and process farro to reduce gluten levels below the FDA threshold.

However, research on these “gluten-removed” farro products shows that while they may meet the 20 ppm standard, gluten protein is still detectable. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that while certified gluten-free farro was under 20 ppm, it still had concerning gluten peptide levels compared to other grains tested.

So while certified gluten-free farro products exist, they do not appear to be completely free of gluten proteins. Most experts advise avoiding farro altogether if you follow a gluten-free diet rather than relying on questionable gluten-removed labeling.

Risk of cross-contamination

Additionally, even gluten-free labelled farro risks cross-contamination. One study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health examined five certified gluten-free farro products, finding three tested above 20 ppm and would not be permissible for sale in countries with stricter gluten-free labelling regulations like Canada, the European Union and Australia.

This indicates a high potential for gluten cross-contamination even in products that claim to be gluten-free. So for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, certified gluten-free farro is likely not worth the risk compared to naturally gluten-free grains.

Health benefits of quinoa and farro

While farro contains gluten making it unsuitable for gluten-free diets, both farro and quinoa offer nutritional benefits:


– High in protein with all nine essential amino acids
– Rich source of fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and antioxidants
– Low glycemic index benefits blood sugar control
– High protein and fiber content promotes satiety
– Anti-inflammatory phytonutrients may reduce disease risk


– Good source of fiber, protein, magnesium, zinc and some B vitamins
– Contains phenolic acids with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity
– Lower carb and lower glycemic impact than modern wheat
– May be easier to digest than modern wheat for those without gluten sensitivity
– Boosts probiotics and supports digestive health

So both quinoa and farro provide valuable nutrition. But the benefits of farro need to be weighed against potential gluten-related risks if avoiding gluten for medical reasons. Quinoa offers nutrition plus gluten-free assurance.

Using quinoa and farro

Ways to use quinoa:

– Make breakfast porridge or overnight oats by cooking quinoa flakes in milk or non-dairy milk
– For a fluffy, gluten-free side dish, cook quinoa in broth instead of water
– Add cooked quinoa to salads, bowls, soups, casseroles and stir-fries
– Make quinoa flour to bake gluten-free breads, muffins, pancakes and waffles
– Use quinoa in place of rice in stuffed vegetables like tomatoes, squash, peppers or cabbage leaves
– Combine with beans, vegetables and seasonings to make veggie quinoa burgers
– Make creamy quinoa breakfast pudding with eggs, non-dairy milk and spices

Ways to use farro:

– Make farro risotto as a gluten-containing alternative to arborio rice risotto
– Cook farro in soup stock and use in hearty soups and stews
– Toss cooked farro into salads and grain bowls
– Blend cooked farro into dips like hummus
– Make a warm farro breakfast bowl with fruit, nuts, milk and cinnamon
– Use farro flour for baking bread and pasta
– Make farro veggie burgers or meatballs combined with beans and vegetables

Both quinoa and farro are versatile grains that can be enjoyed in sweet and savory dishes. But quinoa’s gluten-free status makes it the choice for gluten-free cooking and baking.

Finding gluten-free quinoa and avoiding farro

When shopping, read labels carefully and look for:

– Quinoa and quinoa products marked certified gluten-free
– Products made with quinoa flour that are certified gluten-free
– Avoid any products listing farro or farro flour as an ingredient
– Check for farro under alternate names like emmer wheat, dicoccum wheat or hulled wheat

Cross-contamination is also a concern, so it’s safest to avoid facilities that process farro if you follow a gluten-free diet. Be aware that some restaurants may use farro but call it “gluten-free wheat.” Do not consume farro or products containing farro unless you can tolerate gluten.

Many common gluten-free grains like brown rice, millet, sorghum, teff and certified oats can serve as healthy substitutes for farro. There are also several recipes available online for replicating the texture of farro using gluten-free whole grain blends for those who miss farro’s chewy bite.

Quinoa continues to gain popularity among those eating gluten-free due to its versatile nutritional profile and gluten-free assurance. Farro should be avoided on gluten-free diets, but can be enjoyed in moderation by those who tolerate gluten and want to diversify grain choices.


When it comes to eating gluten-free, quinoa is a safe, nutritious choice while farro is risky due to high gluten content. Studies universally confirm quinoa as gluten-free, while farro exceeds the FDA gluten threshold. Even certified gluten-free farro retains trace gluten and has a high risk of cross-contamination.

For those with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or who avoid gluten for other reasons, quinoa is the clear winner. Farro and any food containing farro should be avoided in favor of naturally gluten-free grains like quinoa. But farro can provide nutrition benefits to those able to tolerate gluten in moderation. Both ancient grains offer unique flavor and texture, but only quinoa delivers this with the assurance of being gluten-free.

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