Although often vaunted as an excellent source of vegetable protein, quinoa actually lags behind soy or whole milk powder and fares better against other grains such as rice, according to new product developer Laurie Scanlin.
This is why Scanlin has spent 15 years developing quinoa protein concentrate (QPC) in a bid to retain and maximise its nutritional components - and is close to commercialising it.
QPC can take the grain’s protein content from between 9-20% as a whole food to around 70% as well as protecting its phytonutrients – quinoa is a good source of lysine, for instance, but this is lost if the grain is toasted.
Scanlin told FoodNavigator: “Quinoa protein concentrate was originally developed to improve quinoa's palatability and digestibility, so that QPC may be incorporated into less starchy, more nutrient-dense food and beverages to meet the needs of growing children.”
As an extract from an existing food, QPC would fall under the EU’s novel foods regulation and has yet to be approved in Europe, Scanlin said. She was hopeful that it would follow the path of rapeseed protein which was granted novel foods approval in 2013.
With over 1400 products on the US market already boasting quinoa as an ingredient according to 2015 Innova data, Scanlin said QPC could increase its usage across a variety of applications.
Its creamy, non-gritty texture made it ideal for use in beverages while its gelling and foaming properties meant it could be used as a plant-based replacement for both egg-white and dairy foams. It also had an optimal pH level and a long shelf-life.
Although it has been in the development pipeline for many years, formulators have struggled to take QPC from lab to factory, and they were still looking into ways to use every part of the grain: “The sustainability of QPC as a plant-based protein is dependent on the marketability and use of its co-ingredients such as quinoa fibre, starch, and oil.”
Scanlin, who works with quinoa importer Andean Naturals as well as being CEO of Keen Ingredients, said she has had some costly trials in the past – but they hoped to bring small-scale commercial volumes of QPC to market within the year – ideally manufactured by a company specialised in protein production.
But why exactly has it taken so long to develop?
"It's easy to control things in a lab, or on a small size such as one recipe. Scaling up to pilot production though, which maybe thousands times larger, using equipment that's representative of large commercial production and different than lab equipment, is challenging for... all new foods," said Scanlin.
"Many things can change on a large scale such as extending times, temperatures, pH, viscosity, particle size. Even slight changes can effect nutritional integrity, taste, quality, and functionality."
An agent for global change
For Scanlin, who presented her work at an IFT conference on sustainability, the most interesting aspect of quinoa was its potential to act as an agent for change in the fight against global hunger and food security.
Suitable for arid and salty soils, quinoa competed very well with animal sources for yield, giving five times more protein than milk for the same amount of land whilst requiring five times less water.
“Truly this will become more significant year on year as the climate continues to change,” she said.