Sacha inchi, which is scientifically named as Plukenetia volubilis L. and also commonly known as Inca peanut and mountain peanut, is native to the Amazon rainforest of Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, and other parts of South America. In recent years, it has spread to some regions of Southeast Asia notably in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. This fruit was originally cultivated during the pre-Inca period in the Secoyas, Boras and Amueshas tribes of the Amazon rainforest in Peru 3000 to 5000 years ago.
This star-shaped fruit contains lenticular seeds in fours, fives, or sixes and it turns from green to brownish black when ripe. Sacha inchi seeds have been reported to contain a high amount of omega 3 (47%), 6 (37%), and 9 (7%) essential fatty acids that are uncommon in other vegetable oils. Also, it is rich in protein (27%) and contains heat-labile substances with a bitter taste. Although the fruit is not commonly consumed, the seeds are roasted and eaten, or groud into fine powder and added to food products. The oil extracted from the seeds can be used in cooking or skin care products. On top of that, the heart-shaped leaves, being regarded as nutritious and rich in terpenoids, saponins, and phenolic compounds (flavonoids), can be dried and brewed to make a herbal tea.
Generally, a 0.4-ounce (10 grams) serving of sacha inchi seeds contains 1g carbs, 3g proteins, 5g fats, 1g fiber and provides 70 kcal calories. Due to the fact that the seeds are high in heart healthy unsaturated fats, it is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Besides that, it contains micronutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and zinc, and is rich in antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation and protect against chronic diseases.
Sacha inchi seed oil has been associated with numerous powerful health benefits. One of them is the reduced cardiovascular risk. One study reported that people who consumed 10-15 mL sacha inchi seed oil daily for 4 months experienced improved blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL and HDL cholesterol levels. The cardiovascular benefit is also attributed by its high content of antioxidants and tocopherol vitamin E. Since sacha inchi oil is rich in omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, it is involved in the formation of tissues and cell membranes, which supports a healthy functioning of the brain and nervous system. In addition, it has been discovered to contain an amino acid that contributes to serotonin production that helps to regulate bodily functions such as emotions, sleep, stress, appetite and digestion. Also, sacha inchi oil can promote a healthy weight loss by diminishing the cravings for snacking.
When sacha inchi oil is used topically, its anti-inflammatory property helps to promote softness, smoothness, and suppleness, and therefore enhancing skin’s rejuvenation for a more youthful complexion. With regards to its great antioxidant benefit, sacha inchi oil can help to alleviate the fine lines and wrinkles, hence promoting the anti-aging function. Moreover, when applied on hair and scalp, it can provide nourishment to hair strands and reduce scalp inflammation espcially in those suffering from psoriasis or eczema. In the cosmetic indsutry, sacha inchi oil is used as a binding and lathering agent in soap.
Sacha inchi oil is considered as superfood due to its excellent nutritional profile. It offers similar benefits to fish oil but without the strong fishy taste and odor, hence it is ideal for vegetarians and those who do not consume adequate omega-rich food. So, it can be drizzled over salads and pasta, or added to homemade granola and smoothies to boost the flavor and health benefits.