02 May 2010

Cleaning quinoa

An interesting property of quinoa is that the skin of the seed contains saponin, which is a bitter substance that prevents or reduces insect and bird damage. This allows farmers to use less insecticides or none, but is something that must be removed before the seed is considered edible. It's a rather labour intensive process for farmers and so they usually sell it unwashed. It's also a reason for them not to consume quinoa; to do so would mean that they need to spend valuable time and energy washing the quinoa with water that is also scarce.

Companies, on the other hand have mechanised methods and this is a short review of one such machine.

So first the quinoa goes through a sieve that takes out some of the chaff and so forth, then it goes through a zig-zag of metal with water that is meant to soak it and hopefully take some skin off, then the last step is that it's bathed in water and rinsed of the skin and with it the saponin. The water and quinoa fall into a metal box with holes which they put in a centrifuge to take out as much water as they can. Then it's set to dry on a concrete slab on the compound.

They save as much saponin as they can, it's used for soap and as a natural insecticide. The waste-water is drained into a small pool, not recycled. They can process something like 25 quintals, a quintal is 100 pounds, of quinoa per hour. I'll try to upload a video of the whole process when I can.

Here is the link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4wMBIlfky4


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