Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t. When you do, why not try a seed instead—one that looks and tastes like a nut, and has extra benefits? Enter sacha inchi, AKA the “Inca peanut,” which hails from South American rain forests and has been a part of the region’s diet for thousands of years.
SEEDING THE BENEFITS
Like other seeds, the large, nutty-flavored sacha inchi is high in protein, and it’s also especially rich in fiber—5 grams per 1-oz. serving. Plus, it’s considered a superfood, since it’s one of the richest sources of plant-based omega fatty acids you can get.
Specifically, it’s filled with omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Our bodies don’t make them, so we have to get them through food. Most Americans don’t consume enough omega-3s and get far too many omega-6 fats, usually in the form of processed oils like canola, soybean, and safflower. This imbalance and the low quality of the oils contributes to harmful inflammation in the body. Eating these seeds is one way to increase your intake of omega-3s, while also getting omega-6 fats from a cleaner source.(Though too many omega-6s can be harmful, we do need some. Omega-6 fats support bone health, lower the risk of heart disease, help reduce nerve pain and more.)
“Omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions,” according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
“Since I eat very close to 100% plant-based, I’m always looking for optimal sources of omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids, and sacha inchi fits the bill,” says Jeff Taraday, a health coach and co-owner of Trusii International, which makes organic, raw and vegan supplements and body care products, including a plant-based protein blend with sacha inchi. “Considering our daily exposure to the toxins and pollutants of the modern world, coupled with the fact that many plants are simply not as nutritionally rich as they used to be due to soil depletion, I think including ‘superfoods’ in our diets is a must.”
As with any food, “super” or otherwise, keep in mind that not all sacha inchi products may be equal if the seeds aren’t processed properly, Taraday says. Also, watch out for ones that also contain unhealthy ingredients like processed oils. “Stick with a reputable brand or do some research before purchasing just any product out there,” says Taraday.
As with other nuts and seeds, there’s also an allergy risk, so watch out for any digestive issues, skin rashes or other side effects when you try sacha inchi.
PLANTING THE SEED IN YOUR DIET
These days, you don’t have to trek through the rainforest to find sacha inchi; they’re now readily available in the U.S., sold as is to eat out of hand, as well as in nutrition powders, protein bars and oil. Look for them at your favorite health food store, or find affordable bags of munch-ready seeds roasted with a bit of sea salt at Trader Joe’s. Eat them solo or use them to top a salad, oatmeal, or yogurt. Or get creative and grind the seeds into a flour to use in a cookie recipe or make a simple sacha inchi seed butter. For another on-the-go option, try Julian Bakery’s pegan cinnamon raisin roll protein bars. They’re made with 99% organic ingredients and are sweetened with monk fruit. They also make a pegan sacha inchi protein powder.
Nutiva’s organic, vegan plant protein powder combines sacha inchi with other plant-based protein sources and superfoods plus probiotics. Mix it with water, juice or non-dairy milk, or add it to a smoothie.
Imlak’esh Organics sells jars of the seeds, sweet “Canopy Clusters” of sacha inchi and fruits, as well as gelatinized sacha inchi powder, which the company recommends adding to smoothies, baked goods and savory soups for a “nutty nutrition boost.” Its seeds are ethically sourced and “rainforest-friendly.”
Look for culinary sacha inchi oils to add to smoothies or a salad dressing, suggests registered dietitian and nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, author of Peruvian Power Foods. Don’t cook with the oil; heat kills its nutritional benefits. And make sure you buy food-grade oil, not the kind meant for hair care.
Personal trainer and blogger Sarah Jane Parker of The Fit Cookie likes to use sacha inchi powder for smoothies, protein balls and bars. “It has a slight flavor that can easily be masked with anything you put with it, like cocoa powder or peanut butter, if you’re making shakes,” Parker says. Ready for a treat? Try her Chocolate Sunbutter Cup Smoothie featuring the magic seed.
Bio: Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor and works as a freelance web editor for NPR affiliate KPCC. She’s written about healthier food and events for various publications including Eater LA and was an editor for AOL’s Patch, where she won an LA Press Club Award. In addition to her BA in journalism, Jessica is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program.