Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The saponin content in quinoa: Healthy or toxic?

In its natural state quinoa has a coating of saponins, which gives it a bitter taste. This bitterness can have beneficial effects in terms of cultivation, as it is a crop that is relatively untouched by birds and thus requires minimal protection. The presence of saponin is obvious by the production of a soapy looking "suds". This also represents the major antinutritional factor found in the grain. Fortunately, most of these saponins are concentrated in the outer layers of the grain (seed coat, and a cuticle-like layer) which facilitates their removal industrially by washing the grains with water.

You might be glad to know that our Nature's Superfoods organic quinoa grains have been pre-washed to remove the saponin coating before being packed for shipment. Hence, a light rinse of the grains between 5-10 seconds under running water will be sufficient before you cook the grains. No soaking required.

The saponin content in quinoa can be mildly toxic, as can be the oxalic acid content found in the leaves of all of the chenopodium family. Because of their differential toxicity to various organisms saponins have been investigated as potent natural insecticides which would have no adverse effects on higher animals and man. However, the risks associated with quinoa are minimal provided that it is pre-washed and the leaves are not eaten in excess.

Other interest in saponins is in their antibiotic, fungi static and pharmacological properties.

In South America the saponin which is removed from the quinoa is used as detergent for washing clothes and as an antiseptic to promote healing of skin injuries.

1 comment:

HELI said...

Good - A clear and practical summary of that nagging safety question on one of the world's most wonderful foods - one which I feature in my (Spring, 1010) forthcoming book: The Safe Foodie.

Heli Perrett, Ph.D.