Quinoa Oil

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Quinoa was relatively unknown outside the secluded, serene valleys of the Andes mountains. This cereal is originally from a famous lake, the Lake Titicaca located at a staggering elevation of 3812m in the Bolivian plateau. However, globalisation has led to quinoa becoming a popular cereal in most countries of the world. And this has occurred rapidly too. Much has been explored about the nutritional benefits of quinoa. But, an edible oil too can be expelled from its seeds and this vegetable oil has some interesting properties.  

Source

Quinoa has the biological name Chenopodium quinoa. Most of us know it as a cereal, but it is actually not a grassy cereal, unlike other staples like wheat or rice. Quinoa belongs to the same family as the amaranth. It is a resistant crop as it naturally repels many pests, thus it is easy to care for. The hardy mountain traversing Andean people would have been definitely pleased at such a crop which takes much lesser effort than most other grains.  

Quinoa Seeds
Quinoa Seeds (Image:Shutterstock)

Its flowers are purple, like lavender. The seeds contain a coating which is bitter and mildly poisonous. This coat is removed and then seeds are cooked. It is of immense nutritional value.  

The seeds are fatty and yield about 5-8% of its weight as an edible oil. This oil content is more than most other grains. Hence, quinoa has evoked much interest among oil expellers because of its economy viz a viz corn, whose oil it resembles.  

Therapeutic Properties

  • Emollient – A good proportion of oleic acid (omega-9 fatty acid) and significant amount of linoleic acid (omega-6 Essential fatty acid) make it a suitable contender for use in cosmetic applications, mainly for skin conditioning.  
  • Antioxidant – Quinoa seed oil is unique because of its vitamin E (tocopherols) content. The vitamin E makes it a powerful antioxidant.  
  • Photoprotective– Presence of vitamin E makes it a mild sunblock, as it prevents the person from the harmful ultraviolet radiation. As we know much of the accelerated ageing is induced by a harsh sun, it protects us from premature ageing.  

Uses and Health Benefits

Quinoa Seed oil for Dry, Damaged Hair

Quinoa oil is gaining popularity in hair treatment salons for its ability to repair hair that has suffered some damage either at the hands of the sun (which leads to dehydrated hair) or because of overuse of chemical products in the hair (mainly because of hair straightening).  

Quinoa seed oil delivers a powerful moisturizer in the form of oleic acid to the hair shafts. It locks in the moisture and prevents the hair from becoming dry. The essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) provide nutrition to the hair. Vitamin E also exerts some emollient effect but it is chiefly noted for its ability to prevent free radical damage.  

How to use quinoa oil for hair? 

Quinoa oil (if you can get your hands on it!) can be applied directly on the affected hair. It however blends well with jojoba oil as a carrier for application on hair. But, it cannot be used as a leave in conditioner if you need to go out. That is because it is a heavy combination that makes hair greasy. Therefore, it should be washed off after about 30 minutes. For this purpose, one can use either cold pressed or solvent extracted oil.  

It is to note that certain salon conditioners that provide damaged hair treatments using quinoa oil-based products may not be using any quinoa oil at all. Actually, what is done is that an aqueous extract of quinoa seeds is used. This is much different from the oil as it contains many proteins (mainly a good mix of essential amino acids). These proteins are very much needed by the body but it is not quite clear how effectively they can be absorbed into the hair through a topical application. Nevertheless, these hair treatments often add an aqueous extract of quinoa oil to a base oil (like jojoba), add some aromatic agents (mainly rosemary essential oil for hair growth), some good vitamins for the hair (like pantothenic acid B-5) along common surfactants (shampoo). Such a mix of nutrients and cleansing agents is also very good for the hair, but the point to understand is that the benefit to hair could be as a result of any one of these ingredients and the benefit cannot be solely credited to quinoa.     

Quinoa oil’s mode of action would be different as compared to its aqueous extract. So, as a consumer, one should be aware about this little fact.  

Quinoa oil for the Skin

There is not much information on the use of quinoa oil for skin conditioning applications, mainly because the oil is so scarce. It is not known to be used in traditional remedies of the people who inhabit the Andes mountains.  

However, based on the profile of the nutrients that it offers, quinoa oil would make a good moisturizer with a mix of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Certain manufacturers have started developing cosmetic application using small amounts of quinoa oil, like foot cream for dry heels and night cream for the under eyes.  

The oleic acid content in quinoa oil (though nowhere near as much as olive oil) would make it a good moisturizer for dry skin issues. Thus, it can be used for direct application on such areas where skin generally tends to get dry much more, like elbows, knees and heels.  

Nutritional Information

The preliminary though not the least in importance is the fatty acid composition of quinoa seed oil.  

Fatty acid  C-notation  Percentage  
Linoleic acid  C 18:2  50 
Oleic acid  C 18:1  25 
Linolenic acid  C 18:3  5.4 
Palmitic acid  C 16:0  10 
Stearic acid  C 18:0  0.8 
Arachidic acid  C 20:0  0.7 

Source: 1 

The above three on the list are unsaturated fats and total about 80% of the oil. This is a healthy proportion of unsaturated fats. Such a high amount of unsaturates would have made quinoa oil quite susceptible to rancidity. Unsaturated fats have one or more than one double bond between carbon bonds, which the free radicals (from the oxidizing agents like sunlight and air) love to break down. This process, called oxidation, makes the oil foul and unusable, both topically or as a cooking oil.  

But, quinoa oil turns out to be quite stable. It has a good shelf-life. This is attributed to vitamin E in the oil, which is as follows.  

Alpha tocopherol  690 – 740 mg/kg 
Gamma tocopherol  790 – 930 mg/kg 

Source: 1 

Although the fatty acids in quinoa oil somewhat resemble maize oil in proportion, it is in vitamin E that it stands out. Quinoa oil contains about 3x more alpha tocopherol and about 2x more gamma tocopherol than corn oil.  

Quinoa oil is presently not used as a cooking oil, and its suitability for cooking purposes has not yet been evaluated. The material safety data sheet on quinoa seed oil is not available. Therefore, information about whether it may lead to allergies, or toxic skin reaction on skin is scarce.  

Buying Guide

There are hardly any manufacturers of quinoa oil. However, one can get it made by buying good quality quinoa seeds and getting them expelled at a nearby expeller firm. In this way, one can get pure, cold pressed quinoa oil. It is mainly available on wholesale sellers for sale to businesses that make use of cosmetic products. Major country of export is Peru.  

References

1.Quinoa – A potential new crop. Michael J.Koziol. Wiley, New York. 

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