Following the 2013 approval of Sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis) oil and seeds for food application in Europe under the novel food legislation, the perennial plant from the Peruvian Amazon is attracting great interest in the specialty food and natural cosmetics sectors.

The gourmet virgin oil, rich in omega 3,6 and 9 fatty acids, is mechanically extracted from the Sacha inchi seeds, resulting in a product similar to virgin linseed oil in terms of composition, nutritional value, metabolism and the level of undesirable substances, as set out in Article 3.4 of the novel food Regulation EC No. 258/97.

It took seven years since Pearl De Gascogne and the Peruvian producer Agroindustrias Amazonicas first applied for EU approval of Sacha inchi in 2005 through the French authority. The application was re-directed via Ireland and won approval from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in November 2012.

Sacha inchi was one of the main products from the Peruvian rich biodiversity to be identified in 2007 under the Peru Biodiverso project finalized in December 2013.

The project was supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), in convention with the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (Mincetur), the Peru Export and Tourism Promotion Board (PromPeru) and the Peruvian Ministry of Environment (Minam).

The Sacha inchi value chain promoted four Peruvian companies working with 596 families in San Martin, the leading production region for this valuable oil: Roda Selva, Laboratorio Takiwasi, Shanantina and Amazon Health Products. The farmers associated to these firms received technical support and developed production and basic business management skills.

The PeruBiodiverso project emphasized quality and innovation. Five of the top 10 leading Sacha inchi manufacturers have obtained HACCP certification: Agroindustrias Amazonicas, Amazon Health Products, Agroindustrias Osho, Roda Selva, and Olivos del Sur.

As part of the PeruBiodiverso project, technical and scientific research has been conducted to confirm Sacha inchi’s composition, properties and safety for human and animal consumption and guarantee that Sacha inchi meets not only the Novel Food regulation for the European Union, but also receives GRAS (USA) and FONSHU (Japan) approval.

Sacha inchi is found mainly in the U.S. market as gourmet oil in glass bottles or capsules, and the roasted seeds as snack foods. The presence of antioxidants and high vitamin E levels in Sacha inchi are among its additional valued health benefits.

Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, of well-known Peruvian restaurants Malabar and Amaz, which are considered among the top 50 best restaurants in the world, said besides its healthy properties and high omega 3, 6 and 9 content, the unique flavour of Sacha inchi oil is “pungent earthy and mineral notes, with green vegetables and nuts; it enhances mushrooms, roots and green leaves.” The oil cannot be heated, so it is always used raw.

And application of Sacha inchi oil in the cosmetics and personal care industries has grown in recent years. Renowned beauty brands such as Farfalla from Switzerland and John Frieda from the UK (acquired in 2002 by Kao Corporation, Japan) have begun incorporating the oil into their body and hair care product lines.