Uses of quinoa
The main known uses of quinoa are:
Humans eat the grain, the tender leaves up to the beginning of the panicle (their protein content can reach 33.3 per cent in dry matter) and less frequently the tender panicles. Nutritional value is high, with notable protein content and quality due to the presence of essential amino acids. Quinoa can be combined with legumes and cereals.
Quinoa is the most versatile of Andean grains for human consumption: whole grain, raw or toasted flour, flakes, semolina and instant powder can be prepared in many different ways, producing a wide array of traditional and innovative recipes.
New and innovative uses in the food industry
Quinoa can be combined with legumes such as broad beans, kidney beans and tarwi to improve dietary quality, especially of school breakfasts for infants and children. There are also processed and semi-processed foods on the market but these are generally more expensive and unaffordable for most of the population.
Such processed or semi-processed products include "cereals" which are ready-to-eat and generally consumed at breakfast. These include puffed, granular, flaked, shredded and hot cereals to which a hot liquid is added before consumption. There are also reconstituted baby foods.
Virtually all flour industry products can be made from quinoa whole grains and flour. Trials in the Andean region and elsewhere have indicated the feasibility of adding 10, 15, 20 and as much as 40% of quinoa flour to bread, up to 40% in noodles, up to 60% in sponge cake and up to 70% in biscuits. The main advantage of using quinoa as a food supplement in the flour industry is that it helps meet growing international demand for gluten-free products.
There is currently a need for high quality foods with high protein content. Protein is concentrated in the embryo of the quinoa seed containing up to 45% protein. The embryo can be separated from the rest of the seed and in concentrated form can then be applied directly to children’s food, for example helping undernourished children to make a rapid nutritional recovery, or it can be added to a variety of dishes for adults needing nutritional assistance such as pregnant women.
The whole plant is used as green forage. Harvest residue is also used to feed cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and poultry.
Quinoa leaves, stems and grains are used for medicinal purposes: healing wounds, reducing swelling, soothing pain (toothache) and disinfecting the urinary tract. They are also used in bone setting, internal bleeding and as insect repellents.
Other industrial uses
Quinoa can produce a range of by-products for food, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and other uses as the figure below indicates.
Quinoa starch has excellent stability in freeze-thaw conditions and in retrogradation. Quinoa starch could provide an interesting alternative to chemically modified starches. The starch has special potential for industrial use because of the small size of the starch grain, for example in aerosol production, pulps, self copy paper, dessert foods, excipients in the plastics industry, talcs and anti off-set powders.
The saponins from bitter quinoa can be used in the pharmaceutical industry which is interested because the saponins can induce changes in intestinal permeability which can be useful for the absorption of specific medicines and in the effects of hypocholesterolemia. Saponin can also be used as an antibiotic and to control fungi, among other pharmacological attributes.
Because saponin has differing toxicity depending on the organism, a study was carried out on its use as a strong natural insecticide with adverse effects on humans or large animals, highlighting its potential for use in integrated pest management programmes. The use of quinoa saponin as a bioinsecticide was successfully demonstrated in Bolivia.