Sacha Inchi

Sacha inchi, a little-known oilseed, has been gaining attention in recent years thanks to its astounding nutritional profile. Learn more here about this rainforest plant.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Sacha inchi, sacha peanut, mountain peanut, Inca peanut
  • Scientific namePlukenetia volubilis
  • Geographic distributionAmazon
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionAmazon Rainforest
  • Main producer(s)Peru
  • Main Economic UseFood industry
Sacha Inchi

Sacha inchi is thought to have been domesticated by humans in South America even before records began. Since ancient times, sacha inchi, whose name literally means “the seed of the people,” has been highly valued as a medicinal plant as well as a staple food for improving energy and strength. It wasn't until recently, however, that sacha inchi seeds and their remarkable qualities have started to gain recognition outside of South America, with science revealing their nutritional and medicinal secrets.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionCardioprotective, Nutritious
  • Key constituentsAlpha-linolenic acid
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe
Sacha Inchi

Health Benefits of Sacha Inchi

Research into sacha inchi's compounds has increased significantly in this decade; moreover, this Amazonian seed has shown to be the best known vegetable source of protein. Studies have revealed several promising medicinal uses for the herb, including:

  • Supporting muscle-building. Because of its impressive concentration of lean protein, sacha inchi has shown to be effective for maintaining and building muscle mass.

  • Protecting cardiovascular health. The amount of omega-3 in sacha inchi helps balance cholesterol levels and lowers blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of heart disease and metabolic disorders.

Traditionally, Amazon natives have used sacha inchi to treat rheumatic pain, but this use has not been verified and is not as common as its cardioprotective applications.

How It Works

Sacha inchi seeds contain large amounts of essential amino acids and alpha-linolenic acids (ALA), particularly omega-3 fatty acids.

Although dietary allowances are expressed as protein, the biological requirement is really for amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins and also intermediate in metabolic functions. There are nine amino acids—histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine— that the human body can't produce, and all of them are provided by sacha inchi seeds.

It has been recently discovered that sacha inchi is particularly rich in an essential amino acid called tryptophan (44 mg/g of protein), which is crucial for the synthesis of serotonin in the brain, playing an important role in mood, behavior, and cognition. It is commonly used for reducing stress and inducing sleep.

On the other hand, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids cannot be produced by the human body, and it is important to consume them from food sources in order to avoid a deficiency. This high fatty acid content gives sacha inchi its cardioprotective properties.

OMEGA-3 FATS HELP REDUCE CHRONIC DISEASE RISK BY BLOCKING INFLAMMATION.

Sacha Inchi Side Effects

Sacha inchi is generally well tolerated, and no toxicity to the liver or kidneys has been observed. Many people experience nausea when first consuming sacha inchi oil, but this typically goes away after one week.

Nutritional Facts of Sacha Inchi

Scientific research has shown that the seeds of sacha inchi are nutrient rich and should be considered as an important dietary source of health-promoting phytochemicals.

Sacha inchi powder provides 4.5 grams of protein per 15 g (a tablespoon), which is significantly higher than that found in chia (2.5 g/Tbsp) and cooked quinoa (0.6 g/Tbsp or 9.6 g/cup). This information uses, as a reference, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults, which is 56 grams/day.

On the other hand, sacha inchi oil contains 47% of omega-3, only surpassed by flax seed oil, which provides 57%, and it is considered the best vegetable source of alpha-linolenic acids (ALA). However, the recommended daily intake of omega-3 is around two grams for healthy adults, and a tablespoon of sacha inchi oil largely exceeds that amount.

How to Consume Sacha Inchi

Sacha inchi can be found in capsules and also as a food in the form of oil, powder, and snacks. In capsules and oil form, sacha inchi is a great source of healthy fatty acids, particularly omega-3; however, it provides the greatest amount of vegetable protein as a powder or a snack.

Natural Forms

  • Pure powder. The dried and ground seeds of sacha inchi can be added to juices, smoothies, and even baked goods for extra protein. Two tablespoons of sacha inchi powder (30 grams) provide 16% of the recommended daily intake for protein.

  • Oil. For a daily dose of healthy fatty acids, the pressed oil of sacha inchi seeds can be taken by the spoonful, in medicinal doses, or be used as salad dressing, though it is not appropriate for cooking since its essential nutrients become degraded when exposed to heat.

  • Toasted. As a healthy snack for boosting energy throughout the day, the roasted seeds of sacha inchi provide protein and omega oils in small amounts. However, it is important to be aware of the amount of sodium contained in packed snacks

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Capsules. This widely preferred sacha inchi supplement carries a high concentration of omega fatty acids and can be taken in easy to swallow, fixed daily doses to improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySpecialized health stores

Sacha inchi is most commonly found in powder and capsule form, although the pure oil and the roasted seeds are also available in some specialized stores.

Natural Forms

The seeds of sacha inchi are usually ground into a protein rich powder. Due to the gelatinization process the seeds undergo, this powder is low in fatty acids in order to make it more digestible. On the other hand, the sacha inchi oil is rich in omega 3, 6, and 9.

Both sacha inchi pure powder and pressed oil can be found in health food stores year-round, as well as via online retailers. Additionally, the roasted sacha inchi seeds are available in some organic markets.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Sacha inchi seeds are most commonly pressed and transformed into oil, which is commercialized as easy-to-swallow gel caps for a daily dose of omega-3. In this supplemental form, sacha inchi is available in health food stores, as well as through big online retailers.

Since the amount of vitamins and active compounds can vary depending on the brand, it is recommended to read the labels carefully and look for certified organic products, ideally processed and packaged in their places of origin.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsSeeds
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • Soil pH4.5 – 5.0 (Very strongly acidic), 5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic)
  • Growing habitatTropical rainforests

Also known as Inca peanut or mountain peanut, sacha inchi is an herbaceous perennial native to the Amazon rainforest and grows in warm climates at 5577 feet (1,700 m) above sea level. In order to cultivate sacha inchi, care should be taken to meet its specific requirements regarding temperature, type of soil, nutrients, and irrigation.

Useful sacha inchi growing guidelines can be found in the herb garden section.


Additional Information

Plant Biology

Sacha inchi plants have heart-shaped leaves about 4.0 - 4.7 inches (10 - 12 cm) long. The plant is more recognizable, however, by its star-shaped fruits, which have anywhere from four to seven points. Its seeds, which contain the bulk of the plant's nutritional value, are brown and oval, measuring 0.6 - 0.8 inches (1.5 - 2 cm) in diameter.

  • Classification

    Sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis) belongs to the Plukenetia genus, wich is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, a botanical group that contains around 7,500 species spread out over 300 genera. This family of flowering plants is found mainly in the tropics, and a number of the members are economically important, including the Pará rubber tree, castor oil plant, and Barbados nut

  • Varieties and Related Species of Sacha Inchi

    Although no subspecies of P. volubilis have been identified, agronomists have described five varieties of the plant based namely on the region. These include the Pinto Recodo, Tambo Yaguas, Muyuy, Rio Putumayo, and Cumbaza varieties. The Plukenetia genus contains 14 other species, including P. fragariopsis and P. angostylidium.

Historical Information

It is thought that sacha inchi was first cultivated in the Peruvian portion of the Amazon basin. The earliest evidence of its use can be traced to 3,000 years BCE, as sacha inchi seeds appear as a common motif on pottery belonging to the Chimu and Mochica societies. These ancient civilizations are thought to have settled on the present-day Peruvian coastline, implying that they brought the plant with them from the Amazonian rainforest.

It is believed that sacha inchi acquired medicinal and ceremonial importance even before the rise of the Inca Empire, since the seeds depicted in pottery have also been found in Chachapoyas burial sites (circa 800 CE).

Economic Data

Sacha inchi's economic importance has increased in recent years after it was found that this herb produces higher yields per hectare than other plants that are used to produce oils and proteins for human consumption.

Sacha inchi is also one of the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids on Earth, which makes its production valuable, as it is of great interest to the "nutraceutical" industry, vegetarians seeking an alternative protein and omega-3 source, and an increasing number of people facing high cholesterol due to an unhealthy diet. The production of sacha inchi in the Peruvian Amazon is currently rising.

Other Uses

Sacha inchi has additional uses in the cosmetic industry, where its oil is used in various products, including soaps and shampoos. Aside from this, its use is limited to the culinary and medicinal worlds.

Bibliography

  • Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Chemical composition, oxidative stability and antioxidant capacity of oil extracted from roasted seeds of Sacha-inchi (Plukenetia volubilis L.), 2014
  • Food and Chemical Toxicology, A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study on acceptability, safety and efficacy of oral administration of sacha inchi oil (Plukenetia volubilis L.) in adult human subjects, 2014
  • International Journal of Tryptophan Research, L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications, 2009
  • National Institutes of Health, Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • University of Arizona, The Chemistry of Amino Acids
  • Government of Peru, Ministry of Agriculture: Cultivo de sacha inchi ; SIICEX: Sacha inchi
  • Grasas y Aceites, Chemical composition of Sacha Inchi (Plukenetia volubilis L.) seeds and characteristics of their lipid fraction, 2011
  • Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, Characterization of sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis L.) oil by FTIR spectroscopy and 1H NMR. Comparison with linseed oil, 2003
  • Oxfam Exchange, Looking to Sacha Inchi for their future, 2009
  • Plant Disease, First Report of Meloidogyne javanica on Sacha Inchi (Plukenetia volubilis) in China, 2014
  • Revista Peruana de Medicina Experimental y Salud Pública, [Effect of sacha inchi oil on the lipid profile of patients with hyperlipoproteinemia], 2011 ; [Oral toxicity at 60-days of sacha inchi oil and linseed (Linum usitatissimum L.), and determination of lethal dose 50 in rodents], 2010
  • Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods, Exposure of fatty acids after a single oral administration of sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis L.) and sunflower oil in human adult subjects, 2014
  • Mayo Clinic, Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid
  • Industrial Crops and Products, Shade delayed flowering and decreased photosynthesis, growth and yield of Sacha Inchi (Plukenetia volubilis) plants, 2011
  • Food Chemistry, Sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis): a seed source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, tocopherols, phytosterols, phenolic compounds and antioxidant capacity, 2013
  • Food and Drug Administration, GRAS Determination for the Use of Sacha Inchi Oil in Select Foods