Sacha Inchi is a crop of Peruvian origin, planted by ancient pre-Inca cultures such as the Mochica and Chimu civilizations some 3000 to 5000 years ago. Ceramics from this era confirm the use of this particular plant during this period. Later the Chancas and then the Incas continued growing and consuming Sacha Inchi.
In 1609 the Peruvian chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616) published in Lisbon, Portugal his book “Royal Commentaries of the Incas” the following re Sacha Inchi:
“There is another fruit that is born under the soil, and that the indians call ínchic, and the Spanish call peanut (all the names that the Spaniards put to fruits and legummes of Peru are from the language of the Barlovento islands, which they have introduced to their Spanish tongue, and which we give account of); the ínchic is very similar, in the marrow and the taste, to almonds; if eaten raw it offends the head, and if toasted, it is tasty and wholesome; with honey, a good turrón is made from it; also, a very nice oil is taken out of the ínchic to cure many illnesses.”
The Sweedish scientist Carl vonLinne presented Sacha Inchi in 1753 in his publication “Species Plantarum” (Volume 2 page 634) where he was first to describe it as, Plukenetia Volubilis.
The use of Sacha Inchi as part of the diet was restricted to the indigenous tribes in Peru until 1976 when the Peruvian Minister for Agriculture instructed Santiago Erik Antunez de Mayolo Rynning to investigate and study the potential of the Amazonian region for new types of food crops. During Rynning’s investigation he rediscovered Sacha Inchi and started analysing the seeds. In 1978 he published his results in the La Prensa newspaper. Dr. Antunez de Mayolo then compared the fat content of the Sacha Inchi seeds to Linseed and Soy. Mayolo presented his findings during the XII Peruvian Congress of Chemistry in October 1980 where he gave a master talk on “Sacha Inchi’s excellent chemical and nutritional attributes”. Following this presentation, Cornell University’s Institute of Food Science analysed Sacha Inchi confirming the high levels of protein and oil in the seeds. The study “D.C Hazen & Y.S Stoewsand. Results of the Analysis of Oil and Protein of the Sacha Inchi Crop. University of Cornell USA 1980” was not initially published however it inspired further analysis.
In 1990, C.R. Valles published an analysis of Sacha Inchi’s suitability as a food and in 1992 B.R Hamaker et al published their analysis of the use of Sacha Inchi as a food by the various tribal groups of the Amazonian region. In 1996 the botanic classification of Sacha Inchi was confirmed to be:
- ORDER: Euphorbiales
- FAMILY: Euphorbiacea
- GENUS: Plukenetia
- SPECIES: Volubilis Linneo
More recently in 2011, Gutierrez, Rosada and Jimenez from the National University of Columbia published “Chemical composition of Sacha Inchi (Plukenetia volubilis L.) seeds and characteristics of their lipid fraction. The authors concluded that Sacha Inchi was suitable for use in the food industry due to its’ high quantities of essential fatty acids and an increasing tendency towards functional foods.
Sacha Inchi was first exported to Switzerland from Peru in the mid 2000’s and at the same time the approval process required by the European Union was commenced. In January 2013 the European Union approved Sacha Inchi Oil for sale as a Novel Food (any food not normally consumed in Europe prior to 15 May 1997 is considered a Novel Food in Europe). Following the approval of Sacha Inchi Oil, Sacha Inchi Protein Powder is now being assessed. As of early 2017 no final decision had been published however it was expected soon thereafter.
In October 2014 the US Food and Drug Administration approved Sacha Inchi as Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS).
Sacha Inchi is grown in several countries in South America along with an emerging industry in South East Asia (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar), China (mostly around Yunnan) and India. Sacha Inchi is one of the 5 Agricultural foci being promoted by the Thai Government for 2017. Sacha Inchi was first imported into Japan in 2006 (under the Inca Inchi brand) and is now sold and consumed in many countries in Asia including India, China and most of South East Asia.