According to research from Washington State University, the “super grain” quinoa has the potential to make a super cookie.
In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Science, WSU researchers show that two varieties of quinoa, specifically bred to grow in Washington State, had great functionality as a potential high-fiber, high-protein additive flour for commercial cookies. This means that the cookies had good “spreadability” and texture when baked.
Taste tests are still ongoing, but preliminary results show that people prefer sugar cookies with 10% quinoa flour to a traditional wheat flour cookie.
“It’s the holy grail for food scientists. We want to develop something that people like to eat and they want to start buying and buying again — and now we’re adding some fiber without them knowing,” says Girish Ganjyal, a WSU nutrition scientist and the corresponding author of the study.
Quinoa, native to South America, has numerous nutritional benefits: it is high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. It is also gluten free. While the grain is popular with health enthusiasts, it has yet to take off with many mainstream consumers. WSU researchers are working to change that.
While no official counts are available, WSU plant breeder Kevin Murphy estimates that quinoa is currently grown on more than 5,000 acres in the Pacific Northwest, and more farmers are interested.
Murphy, a co-author on this study, specifically bred quinoa lines to grow well in the Pacific Northwest climate while preserving and even enhancing the nutritional benefits of the crop. He has been working with Ganjyal since 2014 to improve ways to bring these crops to consumers.
The current study also identified one type of quinoa that works best for “precooked grain salad” — a more familiar use for quinoa — and also identified the quinoa varieties that worked well in cookie baking.
Food science studies like this, combined with field trials demonstrating the agronomic properties of the crops, will help WSU researchers decide which quinoa breeding lines to release for growers’ use in 2023.
The information, in turn, will help farmers decide what type of quinoa they might plant, knowing already how to sell the crop they harvest, Ganjyal said.
In this study, researchers looked at ten different quinoa breeding lines and tested them as flour in cookies at 25% to 100% quinoa. Many of the breeding lines held up well at the lower levels, but the cookies tended to crumble as they approached 100% quinoa flour.
The preliminary results of the taste tests also show that using up to 25% quinoa flour usually gives better results. The researchers purposely chose sugar cookies for the taste test because they are plain, as opposed to chocolate chip cookies, which could mask any taste of the quinoa. For the sugar cookie, a little quinoa may be a benefit, said Elizabeth Nalbandian, the study’s first author and a Ph.D. student in Ganjyal’s lab.
“I think quinoa at 10% added a kind of nutty flavor that people really liked,” she said, noting that the testers liked it even more than the whole flour control cookie.
The quinoa rating declined after about a 30% replacement, Nalbandian said, likely because the texture started to get grainier. Still, she sees opportunities for quinoa flour, particularly in the gluten-free market, because many of those baked goods can be low in nutritional value.
The researchers will continue to develop and test quinoa nutritional products, and Ganjyal noted that Nalbandian is particularly suited to this work because she has experience in the culinary arts and holds a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and business management, as well as food science.
“This is both a culinary art and a science,” he said.