10 Best Quinoa Substitutes When You’re in a Pinch

Quinoa, a simple yet highly nutritious food, has become popular for being gluten-free – and versatile. It can be added to salads or as an accompaniment to savory stews; some have even used it in desserts. Because it is so high in protein, it is often used in vegan meals. But what happens if you need a quick quinoa substitute when you don’t have any on hand? What can you replace it with on the fly?

4 substitutes for quinoa - millet, cous cous, sorghum, chickpeas

You can use rice, cous cous, barley, or even lentils to substitute quinoa, but these options are not gluten-free like quinoa is. Gluten-free alternatives include chickpeas, cauliflower, teff, or chopped nuts. Millet, sorghum, and Kamut are also suitable substitutes in terms of flavor and texture.

Depending on what it is that you’ve planned to cook, there are many alternatives you can consider to replace quinoa. Which one is right for you?

quinoa in a bowl with text 'the best substitutes for quinoa: 10 options'

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What Is A Good Substitute For Quinoa?

Quinoa is an incredibly versatile food that has gained a reputation for being used in vegan and vegetarian meals. It tastes great and is nutritionally dense, which makes it a great addition to meatless meals. But it’s not just limited to being a meat substitute – it is superb in meals ranging from salads to stews, soups, and casseroles and is even excellent as part of patties, pancakes, or bread.

Unless you’ve got a specific quinoa-based meal in mind, you may find that you’ve run out and need to make a quick switch. Learning more about how quinoa is cooked, how to serve it, and what can replace it will be helpful if you’re ever stuck needing to decide on a substitute.

Generally speaking, quinoa is used in cooking, so it can be difficult to find substitutes. Often, the meal is designed around quinoa – due to its health benefits, gluten-free nature, and low carb value, many people intentionally and regularly cook quinoa dishes. In this case, you wouldn’t necessarily be looking for a replacement.

But, if you’re looking for substitutes to use in place of quinoa, for whatever reason, here are some great options:

Quinoa Substitute #1: Rice

white rice

The most straightforward and natural substitute would be rice, but while white rice may be the easiest to get your hands on and simply add, it won’t offer the same flavor you can expect from quinoa. Using brown rice instead of quinoa will bring you closer to the nutty, less processed texture and taste.

Remember that using rice as a substitute means changes in cooking time and differences in how much water, or other liquid, you use. We suggest cooking the rice ahead of time until just done – beware of overcooking it.

Substitute #2: Lentils

red lentils in a wooden bowl

Together with peas and beans, legumes like lentils are a good source of fiber and minerals and make for a good substitute for quinoa if you’re not necessarily too concerned about nutritional content.

They are dense, and there are many different types of lentils to choose from – you just need to be aware that lentils have a particular taste, so they’re best used when added to meals that will layer intense flavors on top of them.

Substitute #3: Barley

barley in a wooden bowl

Perhaps closer to the look and feel of quinoa, barley is a grain that is quite similar but is larger and a little more robust. Barley makes a great substitute as you’ll get similar earthy flavors, and it requires a bit more chewing. This makes it a textural delight. You may even have to extend your cooking time for more tender barley.

Substitute #4: Chickpeas

chickpeas in a white bowl

Substituting chickpeas instead of quinoa is an exciting alternative – they are larger, have a very different texture, and don’t taste the same. However, from a nutritional standpoint, chickpeas are a great alternative if you need to replace quinoa with something gluten-free, high in fiber, and protein-rich.

Related: How to tell if quinoa is bad

Substitute #5: Cous Cous

uncooked cous cous in a black bowl

Similar in appearance to quinoa – at least in terms of size and texture – cous cous is also a great substitute to consider. It offers a similar taste, too, in terms of the nutty and slightly exotic flavor profile and can be spiced in similar ways. But, cous cous is made from durum wheat/semolina, which makes it closer to pasta. This then doesn’t have the health benefits of the grain-like quinoa, as it’s not gluten-free.

Substitute #6: Nuts

5 types of nuts in leaf shaped bowls

When it comes to high-protein replacements, nuts are also a good option. While using the same quantity of nuts as you would’ve used with the quinoa may be a little expensive, the benefits of using nuts as a substitute are not just limited to taste. Blitzing up pine nuts, almonds, cashews – or a mix of these – also allows you to choose what texture you want to add to your meal.

Substitute #7: Cauliflower

mashed cauliflower

Also a recent trend, cauliflower used as rice, made into a mash, or even as a base for pizza, can make for an excellent replacement for quinoa too. However, cauliflower has a very different taste, so bear that in mind when switching it out. Still, cauliflower is also low in carbs and suitable for those who have intolerances to gluten.

Substitute #8: Millet

uncooked millet in a bowl

If you’re looking for something with a similar flavor to quinoa, millet is one to consider. It appears more like cous cous but has the added benefit of not containing gluten. It’s a little more challenging to cook millet, so take your time to figure out your liquid quantities, as millet can easily be overcooked into a porridge-like gloop instead of the fluffy grain you were hoping for.

Substitute #9: Sorghum

sorghum in a wooden bowl

You may not know that sorghum is a grain, much like quinoa. It’s not very often cooked as is and is better known for use in porridges and syrups. But sorghum is an excellent substitute for quinoa and can be cooked similarly.

Substitute #10: Teff

teff in a large pile and on a spoon

Possibly the most left-field option on the list of potential substitutes is teff. Like quinoa, it is a seed from a grass-like plan and is also gluten-free. It is packed with fiber, nutrients, and protein and can be cooked up like rice or quinoa. but, it can be pretty tricky to find and tends to be on the pricey side.

What Is Quinoa Actually And Is It Good For You?

Quinoa has only recently made its way into the culinary spotlight, and it’s still quite popular as a base for salads, as a side dish, or even as the main ingredient in vegetarian meals. Quinoa is a seed that is both gluten-free and low-carb – two reasons why it has become trendy amongst health-conscious folks and those with allergies.

Having become a household name in around 2014, quinoa initially related to those who wanted to go gluten-free. Due to its being protein-rich, it also became a staple for those who chose vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. Although it is a carbohydrate, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, which means it is also a whole protein.

And while many consider it to be a whole grain, it’s not actually a grain at all. Quinoa is a seed extracted from the Chenopodium quinoa plant, although it is used in the culinary world as though it were a grain. For many, quinoa replaces high-carb or gluten-loaded starches like rice.

Nutritional And Health Benefits

The United States Department of Agriculture notes that the nutritional profile of quinoa as follows – for every cup of cooked quinoa:

  • 8 grams of protein
  • 6 grams of fat
  • 5 grams of fiber
  • 1 gram of sugar
  • 39 grams of carbohydrates
  • Just 222 calories

Barring the high-protein nature of quinoa, quinoa is naturally gluten-free and packed with vitamin B and magnesium, among other minerals. Because of this, it is an excellent addition to any lifestyle that prioritizes health; for those with gluten allergies or intolerances or those who don’t consume animal proteins and still require high-protein foods.

More Questions About Quinoa Substitutes

What is Kamut, and can I use it as a substitute for quinoa?

Kamut is also known as Khorasan wheat and is considered an ancient grain from the Middle East. It is lauded for its easily digestible nature and is higher in protein, minerals, and vitamins than even quinoa – many claim it has an even better taste. Because of its similarity in nutty flavor and chewy texture, kamut can be a good substitute – but note that it is not gluten-free.

What are the most important rules to remember when substituting for quinoa?

Besides keeping taste, flavor, and texture in mind before making your substitution, it’s important to remember that cooking times and quantities will differ. For example, replacing quinoa for rice may require more liquid when cooking, while opting for a hardier grain like barley or kamut may extend your cooking time. Also, keep allergies and intolerances in mind when selecting an alternative.

Is amaranth the same as quinoa, and can I use it in place of quinoa?

There are loads of similarities between amaranth and quinoa – both are technically seeds with origins in South America, are gluten-free, and can be prepared in the same way. But you should know there are significant differences in taste.

Whereas quinoa is somewhat of a blank palette to add flavors to, amaranth has a strong and distinctive taste. Some note that it is sweeter, nuttier, and has a grassy flavor, so you’ll need to consider that before simply making the switch.

Are there different types of quinoa?

According to experts, there are hundreds of varieties of quinoa, ranging in color, taste, and texture. Most common in the United States are white, red, and black quinoa. The various types differ in how they look after cooking, with white quinoa being fluffier, while the others tend to keep their rounded shape better.

It’s also noted that black quinoa has more crunch and tastes milder and sweeter. The blandest type is white quinoa, which is often used as bases in dishes with bolder flavors layered over it.

What is quinoa flour?

Since it has continued to grow in popularity and due to the benefits of its gluten-free nature, quinoa flour has become a viable alternative for baking bread, cakes, and the like. This means that those struggling with allergies to gluten or those who wish to live a vegan lifestyle can use these products for feasible alternatives in their own cooking and baking.

Can you freeze quinoa?

Yes, you can freeze quinoa for later so you can use it in future dishes, without having to substitute! Here are my best tips for freezing quinoa.

Conclusion

If you are looking for quinoa substitutes, you have a variety of options! Use up some leftover rice instead, or look for a more unique substitute like millet or barley. Or, if you just need the same healthy benefits as quinoa, go for something high in protein like chickpeas or nuts! Whatever you choose, I hope you find the perfect substitute for quinoa in your situation!

P.S. If you do have quinoa in hand, try this quinoa side dish recipe (or replace it with one of the options above!)

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