The science doesn’t lie; though, sometimes it really surprises us. Today, as we talk about quinoa and more particularly, the saponins it contains, that might be the case. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ve probably heard me endorse quinoa as a superb gluten free plant-based absolute protein.
My point is unchanged. For quinoa basics like alternatives, preparation methods and serving suggestions read this article. People wonder if the saponins present in quinoa are poisonous to our bodies. After all, there’s abundance of conflicting information on the web regarding this.
Are the saponins found in quinoa injurious to our health?” it helps to first know what saponins really are. Saponins are a cluster of naturally occurring chemical compounds which are found in more than 100 species of plants and in some aquatic life (like the sea cucumber and starfish).
Common nutritional sources of saponins are legumes such as soybeans, mung beans, chickpeas peanuts, kidney beans and lentils. Saponins are also present in oats, leeks, asparagus, garlic, spinach, certain teas, and of course, quinoa.
Chemically speaking, the saponins are a kind of glycoside. That just means molecules with a sugar group tied to some other chemical group. There are a lot of types of glycosides found naturally, each with their own particular qualities. Here are some examples of glycosides most of us are known with (even if we didn’t recognize it):
The sorghum plant (the same one utilized to make naturally gluten free sorghum flour) is filled with cyanogenic glycosides in its roots, making it defiant to root worms. In this situation, the glycoside is acting as a normal pesticide.
The stevia plant holds steviol glycosides, which are utilized as natural sweeteners. In this case, the glycoside acts as natural sweetener.
A lot of plants have flavonoid glycosides, which we value for their defensive antioxidant impacts on our cells. In this case, the glycoside acts as natural cell resistors in our bodies.
The soapy trait is evident in the white foam that forms when quinoa seeds are washed before cooking. (Note: Some quinoa is pre-washed to get rid of saponins; if so, this is affirmed on the outer packaging.) Removing saponins from quinoa by washing prior to cooking also eliminates the bitter taste, caused by saponins on the external seed coat coating of quinoa.
Now, just as there is a diversity of glycosides, there are also numerous different varieties of saponins, each with somewhat different properties.