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 vegetable 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.
Despite its rapidly increasing popularity, sacha inchi is not yet commonly recognized around the world. The seed of this perennial creeping shrub has a high nutritional value, with around half of its weight being in oil and a quarter in proteins.
Classification and Description:
Sacha inchi is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, which 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.
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.
Varieties and Subspecies of Sacha Inchi:
Plukenetia volubilis is a species of the Plukenetia genus, which contains 14 other species, including P. fragariopsis and P. angostylidium. 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.
Uses of Sacha Inchi
Since ancestral times, sacha inchi has been valued by many Peruvian and Amazonian cultures for its nutritional value, and in modern day, it is gaining momentum in other industries as well.
One of the reasons for sacha inchi’s increase in popularity is that its taste is considered appealing, almost universally. It reached international gourmet status in 2004, when its oil received the Les Huiles du Monde (Oils of the World) award. This oil is growing is use as an alternative to traditional cooking oils. The nut of the plant is also consumed widely, making a healthy and tasty snack when toasted. Sacha inchi nuts, flour, and oil are all used as an ingredient in many smoothies, chutneys, dressings, and range of other types of preparations. Its unique flavor and nutritional value have led to its expansion throughout the world, especially as an addition to vegetarian and vegan diets.
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.
Buying Sacha Inchi
Sacha inchi seeds and seed oil are available throughout the year, though they are not yet stocked regularly by many large supermarkets. However, they can be purchased through online retailers, as can supplements.
Raw Sacha Inchi:
The most common presentations of raw sacha inchi include the plain, uncooked seeds and thebottled seed oil. However, these are still rarely found in the average supermarket despite sacha inchi’s rise in popularity, so consumers should look to internet suppliers or specialized health stores.
Sacha Inchi Supplements:
Sacha inchi supplements are mainly found in specialized health stores. In addition, there is a wide variety of supplement choices available through online retailers. Each brand of sacha inchi supplements may come with different concentrations and presentations, although they are overwhelmingly more common in gel capsule form and made from sacha inchi oil.
Growing Sacha Inchi
Sacha inchi is a plant that can adapt well to a wide range of temperatures, from 50°-97° F (10°- 36° C), though the optimal average temperature is 79° F (26° C). It can also grow from 328 – 6,560 feet (100 – 2,000 m) above sea level. It tolerates a range of soil types, including acidic soil with a pH as low as 4.5 that contains aluminum, akin to the typical soil of the Amazon Rainforest. It requires a good amount of natural light in order to blossom, as well as a permanent irrigation system with good natural soil drainage. Soil with a high retention level will increase the risk of contamination by plagues like Meloidogyne spp. and Fusarium spp.
Given sacha inchi’s vine-like nature, trainers – such as humidity-resistant tree trunks – are necessary to help it grow. Diligent pruning is also required to maintain the plant. The first pruning, or “formation pruning,” should take place 60 days after the plant has sprouted. Thereafter, the plant should be pruned once a month to maintain a Y shape. The first harvest typically takes place after eight or nine months, and the seeds must be separated from the capsules in order to process them into sacha inchi flour or oil.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. And these products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.