Sacha inchi capitalizes on superfood potential with functional profile – Food Dive

Dive Brief:

  • Ingredient supplier Amazon Health Products debuted its new Starseed brand at the SupplySide West tradeshow this year. The brand sells powders, butters, oils and other snacks made with sacha inchi seeds and is marketing the ingredient as a superfood, according to Food Navigator.
  • Sacha inchi is a seed grown in primarily in the Amazon rainforest, but it also grows in Southeast Asia. It is rich in omega fatty acids, protein, magnesium and a variety of antioxidants.
  • “A lot of the superfoods that are coming out of Peru have been consumed for thousands of years, but they have not been in the market,” Amazon Health Products founder Wallis Winder told Food Navigator. 

Dive Insight:

Food is becoming central to consumers looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle. From adding more protein and omega-3s to delivering a dose of antioxidants, functional food is increasingly revered. A white paper from Kerry revealed that 65% of consumers seek functional benefits from their food and drink. 

According to Zion Market Research, the global functional ingredients market was worth $64.9 million in 2018. It is expected to reach nearly $100 million by 2025, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 6.74%. With that rising demand, if sacha inchi’s benefits become more widely known, it could spread to a variety of food and beverage products. 

The beauty industry has already had success introducing this nutrient-dense pod into products, but the food industry hasn’t yet followed suit. Amazon Health Products is hoping to change that.

This seed is sometimes compared to a nut and grows in star-shaped pods in rainforests. With a nutritional profile that packs a lot of punch and sets it in the superfood category, it has quite a lot of potential. A study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health showed 27% of the seed is protein, making it a rich plant-based source. Flour made from these seeds comprises 55.92% protein. The same study also said sacha inchi is noteworthy for its 45.2% omega-3 content, and it has a substantial vitamin E component. 

But even if there is more marketing and education about the seeds, it still isn’t easy to earn superfood status. From duckweed and goldenberry to prune and soybean pulp, there are many ingredients with the potential to become superfoods. And although there are many wanting to tout that label that also deliver functional benefits, there is no strict definition of what constitutes a superfood and there aren’t any guarantees consumers will agree.

Sacha inchi was introduced to Whole Foods markets as early as 2008 and arrived in Trader Joe’s not long thereafter. However, it has yet to take off. Perhaps that has to do with the unusual aftertaste that these seeds have, which reporters at the Huffington Post described as fishy. 

Amazon Health Products is not the only purveyor trying to make these seeds into a phenomenon. Imlak’esh Organics is also importing the seeds, as well as health food website Pure Formulas and artisan oil producer La Tourangelle.

Still, the seeds deliver one of the top five nutrients consumers are looking for in their functional foods: omega-3s. As such, there is a significant amount of potential if someone can develop a way to mitigate the aftertaste. One potential avenue is introducing these seeds into powders that consumers can add to other beverages or food that will mask the taste, which Amazon Health Products is pursuing with its Starseed brand. Alternatively, manufacturers could lean into the natural flavor profile and use these protein-rich and omega-3-laden pods as an ingredient in plant-based burgers to give an authentic taste to a product intended to mimic the real thing.

The market for the seed remains small and so does production. Food Navigator reported that Amazon Health Products partners with around 1,000 family farms in the Amazon rainforest in order to acquire its supply. These farms produce sacha inchi year round, as it is not a seasonal product. But supply is still relatively small. If the seed does catch on in the U.S. market, its consumption may be limited by the amount farmers are able to produce.

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