PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – This holiday season, swapping out some all-wheat flour for quinoa flour could be the trick to creating the cookie everyone craves. 

Washington State University researchers recently published a study in the Journal of Food Science that showed two types of quinoa grown in Washington State work great for baking cookies. 

The high-fiber, high-protein grain is showing promise in taste tests when sugar cookies baked with 10% quinoa flour are compared to traditional all-wheat flour sugar cookies. The preliminary results show that people preferred the cookies that contained quinoa flour to the all-wheat cookies. 

Elizabeth Nalbandian, an author of the study and a PhD student, said she thinks the cookies made with quinoa had a nutty flavor that people really liked. 

Researchers said that when baked, cookies made with quinoa flour had good “spreadability” and texture. 

“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,” said Girish Ganjyal, a WSU food scientist and an author of the study. 

Quinoa originates from South America and has several nutritional benefits. It is high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. It is also gluten-free. 

WSU plant breeder Kevin Murphy estimates quinoa is grown on more than 5,000 acres in the Pacific Northwest, although no official counts are available. He believes more farmers are interested in growing the grain. 

Murphy is a co-author on the study and has been breeding quinoa lines that specifically grow well in the Pacific Northwest while maintaining, and sometimes even enhancing, the crop’s nutritional benefits. He and Ganjyal have been working together since 2014 to improve ways to bring more Pacific Northwest quinoa crops to people’s tables. 

Besides looking at how quinoa performs as a wheat-flour substitute in cookies, the study also identified one type of quinoa that works best for “pre-cooked grain salad.” Additionally, it identified the specific quinoa varieties that worked well in baking cookies. 

“Food science studies like this, combined with field trials that demonstrate the crops’ agronomic traits, will help WSU researchers decide which quinoa breeding lines to release for growers’ use in 2023,” WSU wrote in a news release. 

The information will help farmers decide which type of quinoa they might plant and helps them understand how they could sell the crop they harvest, Ganjyal said. 

For the study, researchers looked at 10 different quinoa breeding lines and tested them as flour in cookies at 25% up to 100% quinoa. Scientists said the cookies with lower levels of quinoa flour held up better than those with higher levels. As researchers approached using 100% quinoa flour, the cookies tended to crumble. 

The preliminary results from the taste tests also show that using up to 25% quinoa flour tended to have better results. Researchers chose to use sugar cookies in the study because they are plain. Chocolate chip cookies, on the other hand, might mask any flavor from the quinoa. 

Once 30% of the flour used in the cookie came from quinoa, the taste testers’ appreciation tended to wane. Researchers think this is because the texture started becoming grittier. 

WSU researchers will continue working to develop and test quinoa food products.