Sacha Inchi

July 2, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

If you want to stick to a healthy diet over the long term, it helps to find ways to keep it interesting. Eating the same old things over and over again isn’t just boring to your taste buds, but it also severely limits the types of nutrients that your body has to work with. Fortunately, the variety of food available in the 21st century is greater than at any other time in human history. No matter what kind of diet you’ve adopted, you can hunt down exotic and rare menu items that were previously unavailable. Today, I’d like to introduce you to two “new” snack items from South America.

While pushing my cart down the aisle at my local health food store, an unusual product caught my eye – something called Sacha Inchi. I stopped and examined the package and notice that the contents look a lot like flat, compact almonds. The label promotes a high omega-3 fat content. I’m intrigued because omega-3s are the type of fat most commonly found in fish, flaxseeds, hempseeds and perilla seeds.

It turns out that Sacha Inchi (SI), also known as the Inca peanut, is a plant that produces star-shaped green fruits which yield edible seeds. The leaves of the plant, the seeds and their oil have been consumed for thousands of years by Indians living in the Peruvian Amazon and in surrounding areas. Because the seeds are a rich source of digestible protein (approximately 25-30%) and fat (up to 60%), they have been traditionally used to spur the growth of young children and keep senior tribe members in robust health. (1,2) There hasn’t been much modern scientific study on SI, but what little has been published appears promising, especially with regard to cardiovascular health. (3)

In researching this ancient food source, I found it interesting that the seeds are a particularly abundant source of tryptophan, an amino acid that can help promote a positive mood. (4) The large percentage of omega-3 fatty acids (about 50%) also bodes well for supporting psychological wellness. One of the key criteria to finding an optimal snack is how that food makes you feel. It appears that Sacha Inchi seeds would do quite well in this department.

Another positive characteristic about SI seeds is that they’re high in fat (14 grams per ounce), rich in protein (9 grams per ounce) and loaded with fiber (6 grams per ounce). This is like a natural prescription for fast and efficient appetite relief. Nothing promotes stable blood sugar levels and hunger satisfaction better than foods that are rich in these three macro nutrients.

It’s hard to describe the taste of these seeds. They don’t quite resemble almonds or peanuts, but they certainly taste pleasantly “nutty” and have a crunchy texture. I found that a bit of these go a long way – also a big plus in a snack item for anyone who needs to mind their weight.

Cost may be the only downside of SI that I’m aware of. The price is higher than more conventional snack options, perhaps because they’re imported and relatively new to the market. I paid about $7 for a three ounce bag. That fact alone will prevent me from eating these seeds regularly, but I would definitely consider them as an occasional treat or serve them as a conversation piece at a dinner party.

Further down the isle, another product caught my attention. The box read, “Heirloom Ecuadorian Raw Cacao Beans”. I looked into the little window in the center of the box and noticed, once again, a nut-like item that resembled an almond. It turns out that these are the beans contained within the cacao pods that are typically roasted and ground into cocoa powder. But in this case, they hadn’t been cooked or processed in any manner. There were no added ingredients, not even sugar. This really piqued my interest.

I’ve reported several times about the many benefits of cocoa. Of course whenever I’ve used cocoa, it’s always been in the context of a dessert or an otherwise sweet treat. But this product was boldly placed next to chips and crackers, nuts and protein bars. Could it be that it was meant to be eaten just like a bowls of tortilla chips or macadamia nuts? I had the sinking feeling that I’d get some rather odd looks if I stopped one of the health food store employees and asked that question. So, for the purpose of gastronomical exploration, I decided to buy these peculiar beans and conduct my own taste test.

Let me start by telling you this: I didn’t dislike them. They’re bitter and obviously have a chocolate taste. But they also have an “earthy” quality to them. It’s not a bad thing. It’s kind of like the difference between eating roasted almonds and fresh, raw almonds. I ate the cacao beans along side the Sacha Inchi seeds – kind of like a South American trail mix. In fact, while eating this combination, it occurred to me that some unsweetened shredded coconut would have made an excellent addition to these Amazonian supersnacks.

As far as nutrition goes, these beans are really quite impressive. First of all, the fact that they’re not processed allows for a greater retention of the natural antioxidants. (5) In addition, much like Sacha Inchi, these beans have a potent hunger-suppressing properties: 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein (per ounce). Each ounce serving also provides a significant amount of iron, magnesium and vitamin C.

The other similarity that cacao beans share with Sacha Inchi is that they also appear to support mental health. Several studies in the past few years indicate that chocolate extracts may improve anxiety, depression and low-energy levels. (6,7) Any snack that can give you a mental and physical boost while helping to nourish your body and satisfy your hunger is a winner in my book.

The price for the raw, organic cacao beans was about $10 for an 8 ounce serving. I probably ate about 1-2 ounces as my afternoon snack. I had no desire to eat more, which is an excellent sign. I think the nutrient density and pungent taste naturally prevented me from overindulging.

I can honestly say that I did feel really good after eating these Amazonian snacks. The taste wasn’t spectacular, but it was interesting. I mean that in a good way. My taste buds were energized, my brain was content and my body felt rejuvenated and ready to write this column.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!

JP

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Posted in Food and Drink, Heart Health, Nutrition

20 Comments & Updates to “Sacha Inchi”

  1. Christina Crowe Says:

    I never realized cacoa beans could be eaten like regular nuts. Strange indeed.

  2. JP Says:

    It was a foreign concept to me as well. But it was interesting to try something new and I suspect eating the raw beans probably yields greater health benefits than more processed forms of cacao. Having said that, this is unlikely to become my primary source of chocolate in the future. :)

    Be well!

    JP

  3. geraldine Says:

    bueno me parecio muy interesante para aprender mas pero tambien falta algo como lo puedo consumir ah!

  4. JP Says:

    ¡Gracias, Beraldine! :)

    ¡Esté bien!

    JP

  5. TJ Johnston Says:

    The above mentioned Sacha Inchi is also available as a supplement now. You can find it at *********** good alternative to eating fish 2 times a week and still get the omega 3, 6 and 9 your body needs. The product helps me with my joint pains i had and i got smoother skin as well as more energy since i have been on it my self for 3 month’s now.

  6. JP Says:

    Thanks for the testimonial, TJ.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Vicente Huaman Says:

    Now you could eat Sacha Inchi nuts in the Paneton Santa Clara, which is made out of Whole wheat and Sacha Inchi seeds.

    Importaciones Huaman LLC is the exclusive representative of Paneton Santa Clara in USA.

    This is a very interesting website. Keep up the good work

    Regards
    Vicente Huaman

  8. JP Says:

    Thank you, Vicente,

    Be well!

    JP

  9. Milford Wheeler Says:

    Dear JP,

    I was wondering where I could buy the nuts you mention in this site as I can only find roasted and would like the natural nuts of both if I could find a supplier. I would appreciate it if you could send me the location that I could buy some.

    Sincerely,

    Milford

  10. JP Says:

    Milford,

    I found both items at a chain of health food stores called “Whole Foods”. If you can’t find them locally, perhaps you can find an online source. I buy most of my supplements and some snacks via the Internet.

    Be well!

    JP

  11. Peter A Rodriguez Says:

    I am looking for a buyer of my production of sacha inchi seed or an investor to manufacture the sacha inchi oil I am the land owner and addition own the intellectual property rights of Sacha Inchi Dominicana.
    My annual production is 30 tons of seed. You are invited to visit my plantation in Sabana Iglesia Santiago Dominican Republic.

    In short the very best,

    Peter a Rodriguez

  12. Serg Says:

    Ah, cocoa beans. I completely forgot that the store near me sold that product. They used to carry Sacha Inchi nuts too, but I haven’t seen it in awhile. :(

  13. JP Says:

    Serg,

    They aren’t easy to find around here as well – in Southern California. Only a few of the larger health food stores, such as Whole Foods, seem to carry them. Perhaps that will change one day soon as their reputation grows.

    Be well!

    JP

  14. Paty Lindemeier Says:

    For those of you who suffer from high colesterol, in Peru, where sacha inchi comes from, this nut is used to help people lower their colesterol levels. All you have to do is eat a handfull of these nuts at least once a day and then see the results as time passes.

  15. Michael Haymar Says:

    Does anyone know if the Sacha Inchi plant can be grown in the UK.

  16. Jenna Levine Says:

    I am hoping to connect with Peter A Rodriquez.
    I am starting a skincare line and am looking for a supply of cold pressed Sacha Inchi oil.
    I am also looking for whole Sacha Inchi pods, fresh or dried to photograph for my skincare packaging.
    Any leads would be greatly appreciated!!
    Jenna

  17. JP Says:

    Hi, Jenna.

    It seems you can find his email on this page: https://plus.google.com/117757675861979161412/about

    Best wishes on your skincare line!

    Be well!

    JP

  18. JP Says:

    Updated 07/17/15:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691513008612

    Food Chem Toxicol. 2014 Mar;65:168-76.

    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.

    The study was designed to assess acceptability and side-effects of consumption of sacha inchi oil, rich in α-linolenic acid and sunflower oil, rich in linoleic acid, in adult human subjects. Thirty subjects received 10 or 15ml daily of sacha inchi or sunflower oil for 4months. Acceptability was assessed with daily self-report and with a Likert test at the end of the study. Safety was assessed with self- recording of side-effects and with hepatic and renal markers. Primary efficacy variables were the change in lipid profile. Subjects reported low acceptability of sacha inchi oil at week-1 (37.5%). However, since week-6, acceptability was significantly increased to 81.25-93.75%. No differences were observed in acceptability with respect to sex or oil volume (P>0.05). Most frequent adverse effects during first weeks of consuming sacha inchi oil or sunflower oil were nauseas. The side-effects were reduced with time. Biochemical markers of hepatic and kidney function were maintained unchanged. Serum total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels and arterial blood pressure were lowered with both oils (P<0.05). Higher HDL-cholesterol was observed with sacha inchi oil at month-4. In conclusion, sacha inchi oil consumed has good acceptability after week-1 of consumption and it is safety.

    Be well!

    JP

  19. JP Says:

    Updated 07/17/15:

    http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/15376516.2013.850566

    Toxicol Mech Methods. 2014 Jan;24(1):60-9.

    Exposure of fatty acids after a single oral administration of sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis L.) and sunflower oil in human adult subjects.

    CONTEXT: Sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis L.) is a potential oilseed crop because it is rich in α-linolenic acid (ALA) (omega-3 fatty acid).

    OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the exposure of fatty acids after a single oral administration of sacha inchi or sunflower oil in healthy volunteers.

    MATERIAL AND METHODS: Plasma fatty acids concentrations were assayed by Gas Chromatography with Flame Ionization Detector in 18 adult subjects. After fasting, blood samples were obtained at 0, 0.5, 1, 2, 4, 8 and 24 h after ingestion of 10 or 15 ml of sacha inchi oil or sunflower oil.

    RESULTS: The proportion ALA/linoleic acid was 1.37 in sacha inchi oil and 0.01 in sunflower oil. ALA, lauric acid, palmitic acid, linolelaidic acid, cis-8,11,14-eicosatrienoic acid, cis-13,16-docosadienoic acid and cis-4,7,10,13,16,19-docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels changed over time after sacha inchi oil ingestion but not with sunflower oil. The time at maximal concentration (tmax) for ALA was 2 h after sacha inchi oil ingestion. No ALA in plasma was observed after sunflower oil consumption. The maximal concentration of ALA was 2.84 ± 0.36 mg/ml in women and 0.94 ± 0.57 mg/ml in men, p <  0.05, whereas maximal concentration of DHA was 2.60 ± 0.84 mg/ml in women and 1.00 ± 0.38 mg/ml in men (p > 0.05). There is a trend for higher plasma ALA levels with 15 ml sacha inchi oil. After 2 h of consumption, plasma delta triacylglycerol were reduced with sunflower oil but slightly increased with sacha inchi oil. A reduction in plasma delta triacylglycerol-rich lipoprotein cholesterol was observed with both oils.

    CONCLUSION: Consumption of sacha inchi oil increased ALA and DHA in plasma.

    Be well!

    JP

  20. JP Says:

    Updated 07/17/15:

    http://www.scielosp.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1726-46342011000400009&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en

    Rev Peru Med Exp Salud Publica. 2011 Dec;28(4):628-32.

    [Effect of sacha inchi oil (plukenetia volúbilis l) on the lipid profile of patients with hyperlipoproteinemia].

    We performed a pilot, experimental, open study in order to know the effect, effective dosage and secondary effects of sacha inchi´s (Plukenetia Huallabamba) [corrected] oil on the lipid profiles of patients with hypercholesterolemia. We included 24 patients of ages 35 to 75, to whom we measured total cholesterol (TC), HDL, triglycerides (Tg), glucose (G), non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) and insulin (I) levels in blood, then we randomized them to receive sacha inchi oil orally 5 ml or 10 ml of a suspension of sacha inchi oil (2gr/5ml) for four months. The oil intake produced a decrease in the mean values of TC, and NEFA, and a rise in HDL in both subgroups. The subgroup receiving 10 ml was associated to an increase in the insulin levels. Sacha inchi oil appears to have beneficial effects on the lipid profile of patients with dyslipidemia, but their efficacy and security should be evaluated in randomized clinical trials.

    Be well!

    JP

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