New Aussie-made technology tipped to boost the global quinoa industry

The DPIRD scientists involved in developing the new quinoa saponin quantification technology: Dr Darshan Sharma (left), Dr Harmohinder Dhammu and former employees Richard Snowball and Mario D’Antuono.

In a big boost for the quinoa industry around the globe, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) has developed a more accurate measurement technique to quantify the precise level of saponin on quinoa seed.

Saponin is a compound found in the outer coating of quinoa seed. While it acts as a natural deterrent to birds, pests and diseases, it can be harmful to humans if consumed in high quantities.

Because saponin produces a foam when washed, a simple foam test is commonly used to determine the approximate level of saponin on processed quinoa seed.

Developed by research scientist Adel Yousif, the new technology essentially modifies a water droplet surface tension (WDST) technique used in the resources sector, to accurately quantify the saponin concentration and satisfy international quinoa specifications.


Project lead, research scientist Harmohinder Dhammu, said the WDST provided an innovative, accurate and low cost method to accurately estimate the saponin content, which could generate wide-ranging benefits to the quinoa industry around the globe.

“The WDST measurement tool will ensure that post-processed seed is sufficiently low in saponin in order to create a more palatable product and reduce any potentially detrimental health effects,” Dr Dhammu said.

“Secondly, this tool will assist plant breeders to screen and select lines for low seed saponin content.”

The project, which focused on investigating where and how quinoa can be grown across Australia and resulted in the development of the new variety Kruso White by DPIRD, was backed by AgriFutures Australia, as part of its ‘Quinoa as a new crop in Australia’ project.

Three sources of commercial quinoa seed were tested during the research, including two Australian products and one from Bolivia.

Dr Dhammu said quinoa seed processors willing to invest in the application of the WDST method were likely to have greater confidence in their measurements of saponin content.

“Plant breeders will also be able to use the WDST method to more accurately and efficiently identify suitable lines within the saponin sensitivity range from which to develop superior lines of quinoa,” he added.

The research was recently published in Food Chemistry, a prestigious Elsevier scientific journal.

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