Adding quinoa can create a healthier cookie that tastes just as good

PULLMAN, Wash. — Quinoa checks off all the boxes if you’re looking for a fiber-rich whole grain that doubles as a complete protein. Now, it turns out that it also may serve as the key ingredient in making healthier cookies. Researchers from Washington State University have demonstrated that two types of quinoa, bred specifically to grow locally, has great potential as a high-fiber, high-protein additive in flour for cookies — while maintaining the treat’s popular texture.

While taste tests are still in progress, preliminary results have shown that people preferred the sugar cookies with 10 percent quinoa flour over an all-wheat flour cookies.

“It’s the Holy Grail for food scientists: we want to develop something that people love to eat and want to go buy and buy again – and now we’re adding some fiber in without them even knowing it,” says Girish Ganjyal, a WSU food scientist and the study’s corresponding author, in a university release.

Quinoa originated in South America and boasts an impressive nutrient profile that’s rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that promote blood sugar stability and reduced inflammation. Despite quinoa rising in popularity among health-conscious consumers, it hasn’t quite reached mainstream status. WSU plant breeder and co-author of the study, Kevin Murphy, estimates that currently, quinoa is grown on over 5,000 acres of the Pacific Northwest.

As farmers become more interested in growing it, however, this number may increase even more. Murphy has successfully been breeding quinoa lines to grow in the Pacific Northwest climate while maintaining, and even improving the grain’s nutrition profile. Since 2014, he has been working closely with Ganjyal to bring quinoa to more people’s dinner tables.

What’s the sweet spot for quinoa in cookies?

Food science studies that have the goal of studying quinoa’s agronomic characteristics have so far sought to determine which breeding line should be released for growers to use in 2023, which will ultimately help them better sell the crop.

In Ganjyal’s work, the team studied 10 different quinoa breeding lines and tested them as a flour in sugar cookies. They chose sugar cookies for their experiments because they have a plain taste where differences would be more easily identifiable. The grain made up anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of the flour. Many of the lines helped maintain good cookie structure, but as the ratio reached 100-percent quinoa, the cookies were more likely to crumble. The results show that a maximum of 25 percent quinoa flour is the sweet spot in both texture and taste.

From these findings, the team concludes that some quinoa may have its benefits in a sugar cookie.

“I think at 10%, quinoa added a type of nutty flavor that people really liked,” says Elizabeth Nalbandian, the study’s first author and a Ph.D. student in Ganjyal’s lab.

She adds that people even liked it more than the whole flour control cookie. After about 30 percent, however, this was no longer the case, so it’ll be about finding a happy medium for the cookie industry. In the future, the team plans to continue developing different quinoa food products. This could be a breakthrough for gluten-free eaters, opening up more dietary options for them.

The findings are published in the Journal of Food Science.

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