Saponins are the primary non-nutritional factor of quinoa seeds. They're found in the shell and are responsible for the bitter taste sometimes associated with Quinoa. Its content is a distinguishing factor for classifying the varieties of quinoa as sweet or bitter.
Saponins act as a natural protective barrier against the attack of pathogens and herbivores. There are a wide range of biological properties reported and associated with these compounds, of which its natural fungicidal capacity for other plants stands out. Chemically, quinoa saponins are a complex mixture of triterpene glycosides consisting of a hydrophilic oligosaccharide linked to a hydrophobic aglycone that is derived from oleanolic acid, hederagenin, phytolacagenic acid, and serjanic acid.
At the industrial level, quinoa seeds are processed with the purpose of reducing their bitter taste and preparing the grain for use in the manufacture of various food products. Quinoa farmers and processors carry out the removal of this group of compounds through successive washes with water or through mechanical abrasion, resulting in considerable volumes of solid waste and contamination of natural waters.
With the aim of improving our processes to be more sustainable and eco-friendly, our Olam Andina Perú SAC plant has developed a technology that allows us to extract saponin dry, using the friction method. Through this process we can remove the saponin without contaminating the natural water supply. All waste is collected through our dust filtration system, which reduces waste levels by collecting the saponin for use in other applications while creating a healthy environment for the workers. The plant has an internal laboratory that determines the percentage of saponin in the grain, so we can ensure saponin levels meet our specifications.
Currently, the saponin residue collected at our facility is used for the preparation of balanced foods, intended for animal consumption. In some countries they use it to make cosmetics and natural detergents.
About the Author: Junior Solano is a Production Manager for Olam Superfoods. He has a background in Industrial Food Engineering with extensive experience in the processing of Andean grains.