Plukenetia volubilis, commonly known as sacha inchi, sacha peanut, mountain peanut or Inca peanut, is a star-shaped perennial plant with a nutty taste grown at altitudes between 200 and 1500 metres in the Amazonian rainforest.
Novel food approval for the oil, which contains nearly 50% omega-3, was granted back in 2013 because of its substantial equivalence to linseed oil.
Now supplier Agroindustrias Amazónicas is seeking approval for sacha inchi protein powder, which boasts protein levels up to 65%. The company expects a response to the dossier next year.
Speaking with NutraIngredients at the industry event Food Ingredients Europe (FiE) this week in Paris, sales manager Bruno Anaya said the company had ambitions to make the ingredient ‘the next quinoa’.
“Our project is to make this the superfood of the future, known by everyone in the world.”
A history of use
The star-shaped fruit was originally used by the Incas, something the company was keen to highlight.
However the crop was ‘lost’ during Spanish colonial times and is still relatively unknown among Peruvians.
It was only rediscovered again around 15 years ago when a small rural community was found to be growing it on a plantation area of around 20,000m2.
“They put it on their food. They knew it was good but they didn’t know the scientific reasons,” he said.
According to a 2012 study from the Ohio State University in the US and Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina in Peru, sacha inchi oil has a fatty acid composition similar in omega-3 content to flax seeds but double flax in omega-6.
In a separate paper from Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina researchers it was found that sacha inchi seeds contained "a large amount" of unsaturated fatty acids - about 85% polyunsaturation - made up of about 34% linoleic acid (omega-6) and 51% linolenic acid (omega-3).
Anaya said the company was keeping one eye on ingredients like chia and quinoa when developing its branding, but acknowledged success would not come without trials.
He said twice in the last five years it had issues with supply of the plant that takes eight months to reach fruiting maturity, after which it produced every week all year round.
Competition for the commodity meant growers attempted to play buyers off each other and negotiate higher and higher prices. This left the stock unaffordable and eventfully meant it went unsold.
The farmers then complained they could not sell the fruit and chopped down the vines to focus on other crops.
"No one wanted to buy at that high price because there were a lack of contracts and of loyalty. And that's when that huge problem came."
Fortunately the company had enough of the seed stockpiled to weather the crisis as it has a two-year shelf life. But it plans to form a certified fair trade cooperative for the sacha inchi to establish a fair price for all involved and secure stable contracts with farmers.
Agroindustrias Amazónicas has received financial backing and land access from the Colombian government, which is keen to develop cultivation of the crop in Colombia. Ecuador is also an option for wider cultivation and more varied suppliers.