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Best Substitutes For Quinoa For Healthy And Gluten-Free Meals

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Don’t skip your chance to make delicious and healthy meals for the family with the best substitute for quinoa!

Quinoa in a wooden bowl with scoop in it on a wooden table.

There is a long list of reasons why quinoa is one of the best items to have in the pantry. It’s extremely nutritious, it tastes great, and it’s a versatile ingredient.

However, you might run out of quinoa or have to try other options to accommodate everyone’s food preferences. You may need to replace quinoa for budget reasons, and that’s also a great reason to learn about its alternatives.

So keep reading for a list of the best gluten-free quinoa substitutes for your diet, culinary, and budget needs.

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What Is Quinoa?

The popularity of quinoa has significantly risen in the past few years, but it’s been a widely used food source for thousands of years in the Andes region in South America.

It’s an interesting food in the sense that it’s officially recognized as a “whole grain.” However, quinoa is technically a seed of the plant Chenopodium quinoa, which belongs to the same botanical family as spinach and beets. 

So, yes, quinoa is 100% gluten-free. It’s also commonly used to make gluten-free alternatives like quinoa flour, which you can try with this Healthy Double Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe.

Other grains and seeds tend to absorb the flavor of other ingredients in a dish. But quinoa has a delicate yet recognizable taste with a pleasant earthy and nutty flavor profile. So it’s a nice substitute for rice and starchy vegetables.

Two bowls of uncooked and cooked quinoa on a wooden table.

The standard water-to-quinoa ratio is 2:1, meaning 2 cups of water for 1 cup of quinoa. Bring it to a boil, then proceed cooking at medium-high heat. You can also season the water with a dash of salt to amplify the flavor of quinoa.

Quinoa typically takes 10-20 minutes to absorb the cooking water fully. When cooked well, quinoa has a fluffy yet slightly chewy texture. So having it either for breakfast, lunch, or dinner will be an incredible experience.

Top Health Benefits of Quinoa

Highly Nutritious for Overall Health Improvement

Quinoa is a good source of essential nutrients, including B vitamins and minerals like magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium. 

Some studies have suggested that the wonderful effects of quinoa on our health may range from improving digestion and regulating blood sugar to reducing risks of chronic diseases.

Rich Source of Protein and Fiber

Aside from its flavor and lovely texture, quinoa is an excellent rice alternative because it’s rich in protein and fiber. A cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of dietary fiber.

So, if you want to incorporate more protein-rich meals for your family, making dishes with quinoa may be a great way to do that.

Low Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a way to measure how much a food item affects blood sugar. Foods with lower glycemic index (1 to 55) are best served for people with special dietary needs. It’s worth noting that quinoa scores a glycemic index of 53.

Why Use a Substitute for Quinoa


Quinoa is on the pricier side compared to other grains and seeds commonly used in our daily diet. Depending on your location, you may find other locally-sourced grains and seeds that would be cheaper alternatives than quinoa.


Quinoa is relatively easy to find in grocery stores, and you will typically see it in the same aisle as other grains like rice. You may also find it in the gluten-free section.

Since it’s more expensive, many of us tend to purchase it in smaller quantities. Got to stay within the budget, right?

While that makes running out of quinoa a more likely scenario, it’s a good opportunity to experiment with other healthy alternatives. 

Dietary Requirements

Quinoa is undeniably ultra-healthy but might not be the best food item for certain diets. 

For example, if you’re maintaining a low-carb or keto diet, quinoa isn’t the best ingredient for your meals. A cup of cooked quinoa can have up to 39 grams of carbohydrates.

Embarking on a grain-free diet for health and lifestyle reasons is also a good reason to explore amazing alternatives to quinoa.

5 Best Substitutes for Quinoa That Are Gluten-Free


Its texture and appearance may remind you of couscous, but its flavor resembles quinoa. That’s why millet is one of my favorites of all the quinoa substitutes I’ve tried. 

Millet in a bowl on a gray background, a nutritious substitute for quinoa.

Millet is also healthy and a rich source of dietary fiber. And, yes, it’s gluten-free!

However, it’s fairly easy to overcook this quinoa alternative. Adding too much water would require longer cooking time, and it’s a sure way to turn millet into a goopy fail.

I find that cooking 1 part millet with 2 parts water works around the same ratio as when cooking with quinoa.

Because of the similar flavor, millet is the perfect substitute for quinoa for salad bowls or as a side dish.

Try millet instead of quinoa in this Instant Pot Quinoa Black Bean salad recipe!


If the health benefits of quinoa are important in choosing a substitute, then teff is one of the great options. Like quinoa, it’s rich in protein, dietary fiber, and B vitamins. The downside, however, is it might be harder to find in stores.

Teff in a wooden bowl with wooden spoon in it.

Regarding taste, teff provides a subtle, earthy, nutty taste but with mild hints of chocolate and molasses-like flavors. 

So it won’t taste exactly like quinoa, but it would be a good substitute for desserts, sweet porridge, salads, or for adding a hint of sweetness in pilaf recipes.

Quinoa is a great option to add to this Vegetarian Rice Pilaf recipe, but go ahead and try it with teff instead!

When substituting quinoa with teff for salads or as a side dish, you can cook 1 cup of teff in 1 cup of water for 10-15 minutes. This ratio will give you a well-cooked teff with a slight crunch, although you can increase the amount of water when cooking teff for porridge.

Brown Rice

Brown rice is an amazing substitute for quinoa, just as quinoa became a healthier alternative to all types of rice.

Brown Rice substitute for quinoa presented in a glass on a wooden table.

You can also use white rice as a substitute to still get the same fluffy texture, similar to quinoa. 

I prefer brown rice as a quinoa alternative mainly for its nutritional value. It contains more dietary fiber and nutrients compared to white rice.

Brown rice can replace quinoa in recipes where the edible seed is a delightful accompaniment to savory meat dishes like this Rosemary Lemon Chicken Thighs recipe.

However, rice is not the best alternative for soups, salads, and desserts.

Most rice packaging comes with cooking instructions, including the right water-to-rice ratio. However, the standard measurement is 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of brown rice.


You may not have been expecting to see this legume on the list, but you’ll be surprised at how well they can go with some quinoa dishes.

Chickpeas, a healthy substitute for quinoa, in a wooden bowl on a wooden table.

As you can tell, chickpeas are larger than quinoa, and you can also expect noticeable changes in texture and flavor. While chickpeas have the same nutty and earthy flavor as quinoa, they’re much milder. The texture is also buttery and a little bit grainy.

For added texture, it’s best used in recipes with bold flavors, like soups and stews. It will be an excellent alternative to quinoa in this vegetarian chili dish.

You can also use chickpeas as the main ingredient in a salad, but make sure to incorporate a tasty salad dressing.

Chickpeas are gluten-free and high in protein, making them a good quinoa substitute. More importantly, they’re cheap and very easy to find in stores. Go for canned chickpeas if you don’t have much time to cook.


Quinoa and cauliflower have different flavors. The latter has a slightly sweet and earthy flavor with subtle hints of nutty taste and a bitter aftertaste.

However, cauliflower is an incredible substitute for quinoa if you’re on a low-carb diet. It’s also low in calories and a good source of fiber, protein, vitamin C, potassium, and folate.

Cauliflower substitute for quinoa served in a bowl on a wooden table.

With the trend of low-carb diets, cauliflower even became a popular rice substitute. So, if you’re using cauliflower in place of quinoa, you can make riced cauliflower with a food processor. Then, use it for pilaf-type dishes, salad bowls, and even as a side dish.


Is quinoa more expensive than rice?

Yes. The price of quinoa can be twice as much as most types of rice. One possible explanation is that even commercial harvesting of quinoa is commonly done by hand. Different variants of quinoa have different maturity periods, making mechanization more complicated.

Is rice gluten-free?

Any type of rice is naturally gluten-free, but it can be contaminated or come in contact with gluten-containing products like wheat and barley in harvesting and manufacturing facilities.
If someone in your family has gluten sensitivity, ensure that the brown rice you’re buying is labeled gluten-free for safety.

Is quinoa better than brown rice for protein?

Yes. For every cup of cooked brown rice, you can get 5 grams of protein compared to 8 grams in a cup of cooked quinoa.

Learn About the Amazing Substitutes for Quinoa to Expand Your Healthy Options

Healthy low carb salad with cauliflower rice and chickpeas in a white bowl.

Incorporating healthy dishes for the whole family doesn’t have to mean going over the budget and having limited options. By simply knowing a few gluten-free substitutes for quinoa, you can continue cooking delicious meals that are healthy, easy to find, and won’t break your budget.

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