Quinoa: The golden protein grain to gain

#SmartProtein

In early 2020, the Smart Protein project announced that it would be working with four promising plant-based protein sources, with the goal of generating ingredients as well as plant-based meat, seafood, dairy products, and baked goods. The four sources selected were chickpeas, fava beans, lentils and quinoa. We’ve already covered the first three in previous articles. Today, we look at everything you might not know about quinoa. So put on your hiking boots and join me on the path to learning more about this Andean grain-seed.

By Basti Rückert

What gives quinoa the attribute ‘smart’?

In short, quinoa has a great nutritional profile and is particularly rich in the amino acid  lysine. When we refer to quinoa, we are generally referring to the seeds, which have a diversity of applications, both in the food industry and for home cooking. Food prepared with this grain has numerous health benefits (see below) – certain pharmaceutical products even contain substances extracted from quinoa seeds.1)Rao N., Shahid M. (2012): Quinoa-a promising new crop for the arabian peninsula. Am. Eurasian J. Agric. Environ. Sci. 12:1350–1355. doi: 10.5829/idosi.aejaes.2012.12.1. The plant itself (Chenopodium quinoa Willd) is very resistant to adverse environmental conditions, is highly sustainable (its carbon and water food print is 30 to 60 times lower than that of beef),2)Gordillo-Bastidas E., Díaz-Rizzolo D.A., Roura E., Massanés T., Gomis R. (2016): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd), from Nutritional Value to Potential Health Benefits: An Integrative Review. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences. 06. doi: 10.4172/2155-9600.1000497 and its seeds are considered to be a complete protein, with a strong amino profile. NASA has even incorporated quinoa into astronauts’ diets.3)Goyat J., Handa C. (2018): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Wild.) – The Forgotten Golden Grain, International Journal of Food and Nutritional Sciences, 7(1), Jan 2018. Link. 4)Arneja I., Tanwar B., Chauhan A. (2015): Nutritional Composition and Health Benefits of Golden Grain of 21st Century, Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.): A Review. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition. 14. 1034-1040. doi: 10.3923/pjn.2015.1034.1040.

Seeds and their usage

The colour of quinoa seeds varies from yellow to green, white, red, black, and purple, depending on the species. The plant is a stress-tolerant ancient grain and is classified as a pseudo-cereal, although it is used and consumed in similar ways to cereals.5)Arneja I., Tanwar B., Chauhan A. (2015): Nutritional Composition and Health Benefits of Golden Grain of 21st Century, Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.): A Review. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition. 14. 1034-1040. doi: 10.3923/pjn.2015.1034.1040. The flat, oval, or round seeds are smaller than cereal grains and can be used cooked, roasted, or in extruded form, as well as in the form of flour or sprouts. The seed coat (or outer covering) of some varieties contains saponins, which leave a bitter taste. However, this substance is removed during the manufacturing process.

Quinoa recipes, from sweet to savoury

Quinoa can be used in both sweet and savoury meals. It can be used in salads such as this butternut salad and this salad featuring oranges, beets, and pomegranates, as well as buddha bowls, plant-based meatballs, and burgers. If you’d like to try something sweet, check out quinoa apple crumble, this quinoa breakfast bowl, or quinoa porridge with chocolate. There are also hundreds of other recipes available online or in cook books. And, if you prefer a cold drink after work, it’s even possible to brew beer using quinoa!6)Kordialik-Bogacka E., Bogdan P., Pielech-Przybylska K., Michałowska D. (2018): Suitability of unmalted quinoa for beer production. J Sci Food Agric. Oct;98(13):5027-5036. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.9037 Now that we know something about this crop’s many uses, we can start our little trip to its origin.

‘Food for the poor’ becomes a ‘superfood’

Quinoa was first cultivated between 5000 BC and 3000 BC in what is now the Andes region of South America.8 During the colonial period, the invading Spaniards classified quinoa as ‘non-Christian’ and ‘food for the poor’ and prohibited its cultivation, thus pushing the crop back to the rural regions.7)Bojanic A. (2011): Quinoa: An Ancient Crop to Contribute to World Food Security. FAO Fiat Panis; Rome, Italy. Link. Last access: 03.12.2020 Over 3,000 different local varieties of quinoa now exist, each one slightly different in appearance and nutritional profile.8)The Landscapes for People, Food and Nature. (2016): The Aynoka Landscape of Peru, where communities are protecting quinoa diversity. Link. Last access: 03.12.2020 9)Angeli, V., Miguel Silva, P., Crispim Massuela, D., Khan, M. W., Hamar, A., Khajehei, F., Graeff-Hönninger, S., & Piatti, C. (2020): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.): An Overview of the Potentials of the “Golden Grain” and Socio-Economic and Environmental Aspects of Its Cultivation and Marketization. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 9(2), 216. doi: 10.3390/foods9020216 Along with this diversity, breeders have also developed cultivars, some of which are protected and registered.10)UPOV. (2019): PLUTO: plant variety database – Chenopodium quinoa. UPOV. https://www.upov.int/pluto/data/current.pdf. Nowadays, quinoa is known as a ‘superfood’, with consumption and production having increased exponentially since 2013.11)Bazile D., Baudon F. (2015): The dynamics of the global expansion of quinoa growing in view of its high biodiversity. In: Bazile D., Bertero D., Nieto C., editors. State of the Art Report of Quinoa in the World in 2013. FAO & CIRAD; Rome, Italy. [(accessed on 12 October 2019)]. pp. 42–55. Link Around 74 % of exported quinoa is produced in Bolivia and Peru. The remainder grows in 121 other countries around the globe, both for commercial use and research.12)Alandia G., Rodriguez J.P., Jacobsen S.-E., Bazile D., Condori B. (2020): Global expansion of quinoa and challenges for the Andean region. Global Food Security. 26. 100429. doi:10.1016/j.gfs.2020.100429. In total,nearly 160,000 tons of quinoa were produced in 2018. The biggest consumers that year were, unsurprisingly, Bolivia (3,58 kg/capita) and Peru (1,06 kg/capita).13)Statista (2020): Per capita consumption of quinoa worldwide in 2018, by leading country (in kilograms). Link. Last access: 03.12.202014)UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT). (2019): Quinoa production in 2018, Crops/Regions/World list/Production Quantity (pick lists). Last checked 03.12.2020. Link. Last access: 03.12.2020 However, more and more quinoa fields are appearing in Europe. At the moment, 33 European countries cultivate quinoa, including Germany, France, the UK, Spain, and Italy. For a global overview of quinoa production, see figure 1.17

Fig. 1. Global distribution of quinoa along time: (A) areas of production and experimentation with quinoa, and (B) number of countries growing quinoa.

Source: Global Food Security from Elsevier, article “Global expansion of quinoa and challenges for the Andean region”

Even Belgium and Switzerland are medium-sized producers, with quinoa farmland of between 500 and 5000 ha.15)Alandia G., Rodriguez J.P., Jacobsen S.-E., Bazile D., Condori B. (2020): Global expansion of quinoa and challenges for the Andean region. Global Food Security. 26. 100429. doi:10.1016/j.gfs.2020.100429 ‘Quinoa globalisation’ has reduced the need to import from South America, making logistics easier, farming more sustainable, and consumption accessible to more people around the world. It is hoped that, in the future, the majority of the world’s population will be able to enjoy this highly nutritious food.

‘A sacred food’

Quinoa contains between 11 and 19 % of protein with a high biological value.16)Gordillo-Bastidas E., Díaz-Rizzolo D.A., Roura E., Massanés T., Gomis R. (2016): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd), from Nutritional Value to Potential Health Benefits: An Integrative Review. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences. 06. doi: 10.4172/2155-9600.1000497 Additionally, it contains a high amount of essential fatty acids, minerals (calcium, magnesium, and potassium), soluble and insoluble fibre, and other compounds such as antioxidants and vitamins.17)Vidueiros S.M., Curti R.N., Dyner L.M., Binaghi M.J., Peterson G., Bertero H.D., Pallaro A.N. (2015): Diversity and interrelationships in nutritional traits in cultivated quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) from Northwest Argentina. J. Cereal Sci. 62:87–93. doi: 10.1016/j.jcs.2015.01.001 All of which give quina an impressive nutritional profile – consuming quinoa helps to enhance immune function, support cell repair, and even prevent cancer. The high amount of (poly-) unsaturated fatty acids (up to 88 % of total fatty acids) and the pretty low ratio of omega-6: omega-3 fatty acids (6:1) in quinoa have especially positive effects. These improve insulin sensitivity, and also reduce the risk of cardiovascular, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, and, again, cancer.18)Gordillo-Bastidas E., Díaz-Rizzolo D.A., Roura E., Massanés T., Gomis R. (2016): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd), from Nutritional Value to Potential Health Benefits: An Integrative Review. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences. 06. doi: 10.4172/2155-9600.1000497 There is also good news for people with celiac disease or gluten-related disorders –  quinoa is gluten-free,19)Filho A.M.M., Pirozi M.R., Borges J.T.D.S., Pinheiro Sant’Ana H.M., Chaves J.B.P., Coimbra J.S.D.R. (2017): Quinoa: Nutritional, functional, and antinutritional aspects. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 57:1618–1630. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2014.1001811 so it can be included in a healthy and easily digestible diet.20)Gordillo-Bastidas E., Díaz-Rizzolo D.A., Roura E., Massanés T., Gomis R. (2016): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd), from Nutritional Value to Potential Health Benefits: An Integrative Review. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences. 06. doi: 10.4172/2155-9600.1000497 Additionally, quinoa is one of the few plant-based foods which is a source of all nine essential amino acids that adults need for proper health.21)Vidueiros S.M., Curti R.N., Dyner L.M., Binaghi M.J., Peterson G., Bertero H.D., Pallaro A.N. (2015): Diversity and interrelationships in nutritional traits in cultivated quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) from Northwest Argentina. J. Cereal Sci. 62:87–93. doi: 10.1016/j.jcs.2015.01.001 22)Abugoch L.E., Romero N., Tapia C.A., Silva J., Rivera M. (2008): Study of some physicochemical and functional properties of quinoa (chenopodium quinoa willd) protein isolates. J Agric Food Chem. Jun 25;56(12):4745-50. doi: 10.1021/jf703689u With all these benefits, it’s no surprise that the Incas considered quinoa grains to be a sacred food.23)González J.A., Eisa S.S.S., Hussin S.A.E.S., Prado F.E. (2015): Quinoa: An Incan Crop to Face Global Changes in Agriculture. In: Murphy K., Matanguihan J., editors. Quinoa: Improvement and Sustainable Production. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; Hoboken, NJ, USA. pp. 1–18. Link 

Not every quinoa seed provides the same amounts of each and every nutrient. It depends on the growing area and the variety.28 Read on to discover which environmental factors affect the nutritional composition of quinoa seeds and their yield, as well as finding out about applications that go beyond normal home use.

‘The golden grain’

Quinoa plants are able to grow in different altitudes (from sea level to 4000 m high), and they can tolerate frost, surviving even at −8 °C for up to 4 hours. Many varieties can grow in very salty soils, even with concentrations as high as those found in seawater (which could make quinoa a vital crop as rising sea levels lead to flooding and the intrusion of salt into coastal land). Quinoa can also grow under drought conditions and in sandy soils. Around 200 mm annual rainfall is enough for quinoa to thrive. In every cultivation region, quinoa plants have adapted to the local conditions, which has led to a high biodiversity of quinoa species, with varying nutritional composition.24)Tanwar B., Goyal A., Irshaan S., Kumar V., Sihag M.K., Patel A., Kaur I. (2019): Whole Grains and Their Bioactives. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.; Chichester, UK. Quinoa; pp. 269–305. Link. 25)Jacobsen S.-E., Mujica A., Jensen C.R. (2003): The Resistance of Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoaWilld.) to Adverse Abiotic Factors, Food Reviews International, 19:1-2, 99-109. doi: 10.1081/FRI-120018872 This ‘golden grain’ is a great solution to helping fight food insecurity, particularly in dry and remote areas where other crops can’t be cultivated.26)Angeli, V., Miguel Silva, P., Crispim Massuela, D., Khan, M. W., Hamar, A., Khajehei, F., Graeff-Hönninger, S., & Piatti, C. (2020): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.): An Overview of the Potentials of the “Golden Grain” and Socio-Economic and Environmental Aspects of Its Cultivation and Marketization. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 9(2), 216. doi: 10.3390/foods9020216

Furthermore, there are some interesting applications in the food industry. Because of its good water- and oil-holding capacity, quinoa can be used to manufacture baked goods, pasta, chocolate, beer, diet supplements, and more, providing gluten-free versions of many of these products.27)Goyat J., Handa C. (2018): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Wild.) – The Forgotten Golden Grain, International Journal of Food and Nutritional Sciences, 7(1), Jan 2018. Link

So far, we have just discussed quinoa seeds, but about the rest of the plant?

More than just seeds

It’s not only the seeds of this 1-2 metre-high annual plant that are useful.28)Goyat J., Handa C. (2018): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Wild.) – The Forgotten Golden Grain, International Journal of Food and Nutritional Sciences, 7(1), Jan 2018. Link Other parts also have great potential. The leaves for example, are rich in bioactive compounds that have antioxidant and anticancer effects, and which help to prevent cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes, and prostate cancer growth.29)Gawlik-Dziki U., Świeca M., Sułkowski M., Dziki D., Baraniak B., Czyz J. (2013): Antioxidant and anticancer activities of Chenopodium quinoa leaves extracts – In vitro study. Food Chem. Toxicol. 57:154–160. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2013.03.023 It is also possible to use quinoa as a source of food-oil production. The antioxidants it contains ensure a long shelf life by protecting fatty acids against damage from free radicals.30)Filho A.M.M., Pirozi M.R., Borges J.T.D.S., Pinheiro Sant’Ana H.M., Chaves J.B.P., Coimbra J.S.D.R. (2017): Quinoa: Nutritional, functional, and anti-nutritional aspects. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 57:1618–1630. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2014.1001811

In conclusion

Quinoa offers many great features for the consumer, as well as numerous benefits on a social, economic, and environmental level. Its seeds offer a wide range of essential nutrients which help to prevent diseases. The plant is resistant against extreme environmental conditions, which makes it a feasible crop in a wide variety of regions and climates. Quinoa cultivation is also very affordable since it requires minimal resources, particularly in terms of water. All of these aspects, along with the others mentioned earlier, make this wonder grain a worthy bearer of the title ‘smart’ and a well-deserved part of the Smart Protein project.

References

References
1 Rao N., Shahid M. (2012): Quinoa-a promising new crop for the arabian peninsula. Am. Eurasian J. Agric. Environ. Sci. 12:1350–1355. doi: 10.5829/idosi.aejaes.2012.12.1.
2, 16, 18, 20 Gordillo-Bastidas E., Díaz-Rizzolo D.A., Roura E., Massanés T., Gomis R. (2016): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd), from Nutritional Value to Potential Health Benefits: An Integrative Review. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences. 06. doi: 10.4172/2155-9600.1000497
3 Goyat J., Handa C. (2018): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Wild.) – The Forgotten Golden Grain, International Journal of Food and Nutritional Sciences, 7(1), Jan 2018. Link.
4, 5 Arneja I., Tanwar B., Chauhan A. (2015): Nutritional Composition and Health Benefits of Golden Grain of 21st Century, Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.): A Review. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition. 14. 1034-1040. doi: 10.3923/pjn.2015.1034.1040.
6 Kordialik-Bogacka E., Bogdan P., Pielech-Przybylska K., Michałowska D. (2018): Suitability of unmalted quinoa for beer production. J Sci Food Agric. Oct;98(13):5027-5036. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.9037
7 Bojanic A. (2011): Quinoa: An Ancient Crop to Contribute to World Food Security. FAO Fiat Panis; Rome, Italy. Link. Last access: 03.12.2020
8 The Landscapes for People, Food and Nature. (2016): The Aynoka Landscape of Peru, where communities are protecting quinoa diversity. Link. Last access: 03.12.2020
9, 26 Angeli, V., Miguel Silva, P., Crispim Massuela, D., Khan, M. W., Hamar, A., Khajehei, F., Graeff-Hönninger, S., & Piatti, C. (2020): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.): An Overview of the Potentials of the “Golden Grain” and Socio-Economic and Environmental Aspects of Its Cultivation and Marketization. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 9(2), 216. doi: 10.3390/foods9020216
10 UPOV. (2019): PLUTO: plant variety database – Chenopodium quinoa. UPOV. https://www.upov.int/pluto/data/current.pdf.
11 Bazile D., Baudon F. (2015): The dynamics of the global expansion of quinoa growing in view of its high biodiversity. In: Bazile D., Bertero D., Nieto C., editors. State of the Art Report of Quinoa in the World in 2013. FAO & CIRAD; Rome, Italy. [(accessed on 12 October 2019)]. pp. 42–55. Link
12 Alandia G., Rodriguez J.P., Jacobsen S.-E., Bazile D., Condori B. (2020): Global expansion of quinoa and challenges for the Andean region. Global Food Security. 26. 100429. doi:10.1016/j.gfs.2020.100429.
13 Statista (2020): Per capita consumption of quinoa worldwide in 2018, by leading country (in kilograms). Link. Last access: 03.12.2020
14 UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT). (2019): Quinoa production in 2018, Crops/Regions/World list/Production Quantity (pick lists). Last checked 03.12.2020. Link. Last access: 03.12.2020
15 Alandia G., Rodriguez J.P., Jacobsen S.-E., Bazile D., Condori B. (2020): Global expansion of quinoa and challenges for the Andean region. Global Food Security. 26. 100429. doi:10.1016/j.gfs.2020.100429
17, 21 Vidueiros S.M., Curti R.N., Dyner L.M., Binaghi M.J., Peterson G., Bertero H.D., Pallaro A.N. (2015): Diversity and interrelationships in nutritional traits in cultivated quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) from Northwest Argentina. J. Cereal Sci. 62:87–93. doi: 10.1016/j.jcs.2015.01.001
19 Filho A.M.M., Pirozi M.R., Borges J.T.D.S., Pinheiro Sant’Ana H.M., Chaves J.B.P., Coimbra J.S.D.R. (2017): Quinoa: Nutritional, functional, and antinutritional aspects. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 57:1618–1630. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2014.1001811
22 Abugoch L.E., Romero N., Tapia C.A., Silva J., Rivera M. (2008): Study of some physicochemical and functional properties of quinoa (chenopodium quinoa willd) protein isolates. J Agric Food Chem. Jun 25;56(12):4745-50. doi: 10.1021/jf703689u
23 González J.A., Eisa S.S.S., Hussin S.A.E.S., Prado F.E. (2015): Quinoa: An Incan Crop to Face Global Changes in Agriculture. In: Murphy K., Matanguihan J., editors. Quinoa: Improvement and Sustainable Production. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; Hoboken, NJ, USA. pp. 1–18. Link
24 Tanwar B., Goyal A., Irshaan S., Kumar V., Sihag M.K., Patel A., Kaur I. (2019): Whole Grains and Their Bioactives. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.; Chichester, UK. Quinoa; pp. 269–305. Link.
25 Jacobsen S.-E., Mujica A., Jensen C.R. (2003): The Resistance of Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoaWilld.) to Adverse Abiotic Factors, Food Reviews International, 19:1-2, 99-109. doi: 10.1081/FRI-120018872
27, 28 Goyat J., Handa C. (2018): Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Wild.) – The Forgotten Golden Grain, International Journal of Food and Nutritional Sciences, 7(1), Jan 2018. Link
29 Gawlik-Dziki U., Świeca M., Sułkowski M., Dziki D., Baraniak B., Czyz J. (2013): Antioxidant and anticancer activities of Chenopodium quinoa leaves extracts – In vitro study. Food Chem. Toxicol. 57:154–160. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2013.03.023
30 Filho A.M.M., Pirozi M.R., Borges J.T.D.S., Pinheiro Sant’Ana H.M., Chaves J.B.P., Coimbra J.S.D.R. (2017): Quinoa: Nutritional, functional, and anti-nutritional aspects. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 57:1618–1630. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2014.1001811