Quiny, a quinoa milk alternative made using royal white quinoa from the Andes in Bolivia, is the brainchild of Swebol Biotech, a company founded in 2015 by Aventure AB - formerly part of Swedish success Oatly - and a team of scientists based in Bolivia.
Available in two formats, ready-to-drink and an instant powder, and two flavors, regular and chocolate, Quiny contains no added sugar – not even the chocolate version, the company is keen to stress.
“Quinoa starch is really rich so we utilize the starch and, by controlling its degradation, we can get a natural sweetness, creaminess and good mouthfeel that can be used for different applications as well as plant milk,” said Olof Böök, director of new businesses at Aventure AB and CEO of Swebol.
“It’s well known that the quality of quinoa grown in Bolivia is one of the best in the world so we use the best quality raw material combined with the knowledge we had to make liquid oats.”
The ready-to-drink milk alternative has a clean label ingredient list of water, quinoa (11%), rapeseed oil, calcium carbonate, pectin and salt.
‘Great potential in South America's plant milk market'
While the nutritional properties of quinoa are well-documented, the grain is usually eaten after being boiled, which can decrease its nutritional properties or alter the bioavailability of the nutrients.
Swebol, which started as a research project between the University of La Paz San Andres (UMSA), Bolivia and Lund University in Sweden, therefore wanted to find a processing technique that retains most of quinoa’s properties, creating a sustainable and science-based food.
Today, Böök says he is as excited about Quiny as he was for Oatly.
“Our background is with oats and Oatly, and we strongly believe we can do it again with this unique collaboration, Quiny.
“It’s a completely new market for us and here we will work in parallel with other brands, co-branding and private label. We will also see the same challenges that we had with Oatly,” he added.
One key difference, however, is that today the plant-based milk market is much more advanced than when Oatly started out in the 1990s, Böök said.
“It’s much more well-known, and even though the market here in South America is not mature – it’s still very dairy-based - there is great potential because when it starts to grow we will be there.”
Even if the plant-based milk alternative market is relatively nascent in Latin America, how attractive does Swebol think quinoa milk will be when it sits alongside more familiar beverages such as soy milk?
“That’s part of our mission and also the window of opportunity said Böök, speaking to FoodNavigator-LATAM from Bogota in Colombia, where he was meeting Tetra Pak at its application center. “Quinoa is a local grain, and producing milk with quinoa in a transparent way gives us an edge.
“There are several plant milks on the market today but what we can do with this is tell a story. We know the communities where it is grown and have a patent around the process,” Böök added. (See below for patent details.)
In addition to exploring the Colombian market, Swebol is also in talks with one “very interested” Peruvian company, who believes it could have Quiny on supermarket shelves in the first quarter of 2020.
The Quiny patent
According to the Swebol patent, Quiny is prepared first by removing bitter-tasting saponins from the quinoa seeds using water between 55 °C and 70 °C. The washed seeds are then suspended in water, milled and heated.
The enzyme a-amylase is added and incubated at a temperature between 50 °C and 70 °C for up to 120 minutes to degrade the starch present in the seeds. This enzymatically-treated mixture is then filtered to obtain a food product.
Oil and calcium are added to give the product a nutritional value resembling that of cow's milk. Adding acacia gum can create a thicker product with the consistency of crème fraiche, sour cream or yogurt.
The final product will be certified organic and fair trade, and Swebol has established long-term supplies of quinoa with the growers in southern La Paz and northern Oruro.
Since the Swebol project has gained traction, it has had an immediate positive impact in the growing communities, with young people choosing to stay and grow quinoa rather than leave to look for other job opportunities, according to Mauricio Penarrieta, assistant professor in food science at UMSA who is part of Quiny’s R&D team in Bolivia.
Creating an added-value quinoa product could also help the quinoa growers weather farm-gate price fluctuations and further develop Bolivia’s commodity-dependent economy, he added.
“We can really make an economic impact on the communities growing the quinoa so they are not just waiting to get better prices for the raw material.
“Making them actors in the production, that’s a big motivation. And countries like Peru, Chile, and Colombia have big markets. Developing a product in South America for South America, that’s exciting for me,” he said.