According to research by Washington State University, “supergrain” quinoa has the potential to make super cookies.
In a study published in the journal Journal of Food Science, WSU researchers show that two strains of quinoa grown specifically for growing in Washington state have great functionality as potentially high-fiber, high-protein additive flours for commercial cookies. This means the cookies have good “spreadability” and texture when baked.
Taste tests are still ongoing, but preliminary results show people prefer 10% quinoa flour sugar cookies over traditional whole wheat flour cookies.
“This is the Holy Grail for food scientists: we want to develop something that people love to eat and want to go and buy again – and now we’re adding some fiber without them realizing it,” said Girish Ganjyal. WSU food scientist and corresponding author of the study.
Originating in South America, quinoa has a number of nutritional benefits: it is high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. It is also gluten free. While the cereal is popular with health enthusiasts, it has yet to be on the rise among many mainstream consumers. WSU researchers are working to change that.
While an official census is not available, WSU plant breeder Kevin Murphy estimates that quinoa is currently grown on more than 5,000 acres in the Pacific Northwest, with more farmers interested.
Murphy, one of the co-authors of this study, specifically grows quinoa lines to grow well in the Pacific Northwest climate while maintaining and even enhancing the nutritional benefits of the crop. Since 2014, he has been collaborating with Ganjyal to develop ways to bring these crops to consumers’ tables.
The current study also identified the type of quinoa that works best for “pre-cooked grain salad” (a more familiar use for quinoa), as well as the variety of quinoa that works well in baking cookies.
Food science studies like this, combined with field trials showing the agronomic characteristics of the crops, will help WSU researchers decide which quinoa growing lines to release for use by growers in 2023.
In turn, Ganjyal said it will help farmers decide which type of quinoa to plant, as they already know how to sell their harvested crop.
In this study, the researchers looked at ten different quinoa breeding lines and tested them as flour in cookies, from 25% to 100% quinoa. Many of the grow lines held up well at the lower levels, but the cookies tended to crumble as they approached 100% quinoa flour.
Preliminary results from flavor tests also show that using up to 25% quinoa flour tends to produce better results. The researchers deliberately chose sugar cookies for the taste test because they are plain, unlike chocolate chip cookies, which can mask any flavor from quinoa. First author of the study and Ph.D. Elizabeth Nalbandian said a little quinoa might be an advantage for sugar cookies. Student in Ganjyal’s lab.
“I think at 10% the quinoa added a kind of nutty flavor that people really like,” he said, noting that testers liked it even more than the control whole-flour cookie.
Nalbandian said that appreciation of quinoa tends to decrease after about 30% substitution, possibly due to the texture starting to become more lumpy. Still, quinoa flour sees potential, especially in the gluten-free market, as many baked goods can be low in nutrients.
Researchers will continue to work to develop and test quinoa food products, and Ganjyal said Nalbandian is particularly well suited for the job as he has experience in the culinary arts and holds a bachelor’s degree in food science as well as hospitality and business management.
“This is as much a chef’s art as it is a science,” he said.