What’s the Deal with Saponins?
What are saponins?
Switching gears from our ‘Breaking Down the Nutrients in Quinoa’ blog series, we’d now like to mention another major component of quinoa – called saponin. Saponins are a naturally occurring phytochemical that give unwashed quinoa a bitter taste. Saponins are found on various structures of many plants, depending on the species, such as stems, flowers, bulbs, leaves, seeds etc. In quinoa specifically, most of the saponin is concentrated on the seed. During growth, saponins acts as the quinoa plant’s natural protection from pests, however, the bitter flavor they produce is also a mild digestive irritant, and is a deterrent for human consumption when not properly removed. While some research shows that saponins have a high antioxidant capacity, currently purchasers seek quinoa varieties with low saponins amounts (low to no bitterness), and it is always recommended that quinoa be rinsed thoroughly before cooking and consumption to remove any remaining saponins.
Saponins have both water soluble and fat soluble components as demonstrated by the chemical structure pictured above.
How do we remove saponins from Quinta Quinoa?
While traditionally saponin presence has been identified by a ‘froth test’, through the appearance of soap-like suds during rinsing, this method has been proven inaccurate through our experience. As previously mentioned, most saponin is on the quinoa seed; therefore most of it can be removed before consumption, but this involves a variety of processing techniques that are still in development.
Saponin removal is generally accomplished though either “wet” or “dry” methods, or a combination. Wet methods are an effective way to remove saponin, that being the rinsing or soaking of the quinoa seeds with water. Dry methods for saponin removal require specialized equipment and often involve abrasive scarification of the outer layer of the seed. A combination of both methods is ideal to obtain the highest quality final product.
Katan Kitchens has dedicated a large amount of research efforts into developing best practices for removing the majority of the saponin content from their Quinta Quinoa seed, without compromising the seed’s nutrient profile. This has involved partnerships with several industry and academic members in order to develop an accurate test for analyzing saponin content, as well as developing customized equipment and procedures to remove the saponins without compromising Quinta Quinoa’s seed quality.
Current uses for saponin and Future Directions
Despite the bitter flavor saponins contribute to quinoa seeds, they currently have many useful applications in various industrial channels. From a medical standpoint, research suggests that saponins have many positive contributions to human health, such as anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and anti-tumor properties. It has also been suggested that saponins may have the ability to aid in decreasing blood cholesterol and stimulating an immune response when used in conjunction with certain vaccines. Due to the surfactant/ suds-inducing properties of saponins, saponins have been used in a number of cosmetics such as shampoos, conditioners and detergents.
There is still much to be learned about the removal of and uses for saponins. Katan Kitchens is continually refining their processing line to remove as many saponins from Quinta Quinoa as possible to deliver the taste that consumers expect from our high quality, Ontario grown quinoa.
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