Ancient, yet modern? Sacha inchi and hemp give formulators new options in plant-based proteins

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

A seed packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, Sacha inchi has been cultivated in Peru for centuries (picture: istockphoto, chonchit)
A seed packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, Sacha inchi has been cultivated in Peru for centuries (picture: istockphoto, chonchit)

Related tags: Hemp

Hemp and sacha inchi – two ‘ancient yet modern’ sources of protein from seeds – are gaining traction in the burgeoning plant-based protein set, although their premium price tag means they are unlikely to become as big as rice or pea protein – at least in the short term, says AIDP.  

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA ahead of the Supply Side West trade show, where AIDP is launching proteins from hemp and sacha inchi, director of protein and branded ingredient sales Alan Rillorta said food manufacturers are keen to experiment with new non-GMO, vegan proteins, which are typically used in combination with more established proteins to balance out flavor, texture, and amino acid profiles.

Adding hemp or sacha inchi to your ingredients deck can also help you build a more appealing story around your brands, just as adding chia and quinoa can give products a more premium, 'foodie' vibe, he added.

“What’s exciting is that they are both ancient and modern, in the sense that they have been around for years,​ but are still new to many US consumers, and R&D teams​.

“Sacha inchi is often referred to as the Inca nut or Inca peanut, as it was consumed by the Incas, while hempwas a big cash crop in the US until its association with marijuana caused it to fade, but it’s really staging a comeback now.”

And when it comes to sustainability, which is becoming more important to manufacturers as proteins are often pitched against each other when it comes to their environmental impact, hemp tends to come out very well, as its cultivation requires few “pesticides, herbicides or petrochemical fertilizers​”, he claimed.

Hemp seeds istockphoto marekuliasz
Dehulled hemp seeds contain around 35% protein but AIDP is launching a 70% protein concentrate sourced from China that it claims is both higher in protein than rival products, but smoother and less grainy. It also has a “nutty and slightly sweet” taste, and can stabilize oil-in-water emulsions, says director of protein and branded ingredient sales Alan Rillorta. “I’d say it tastes a bit like sunflower, while other people say it’s a bit like peanut butter. But it’s not as earthy-tasting as some of the other hemp proteins on the market that I’ve tasted.”

Industrial hemp is not the same as marijuana, and it won’t get you high

For those unsure about its legal status, meanwhile, industrial hemp – a safe and legal food ingredient permitted in the US market - is not the same as marijuana, and it won’t get you high, he stressed.

However, this is a topic many potential customers are still confused about, he added.

"The problem is that hemp comes fromCannabis sativa​, [the same plant species as marijuana], but contains little to no THC ​[the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that delivers the ‘high’]."

Evo hemp bar portrait
Hemp, which like chia contains short-chain omega-3 fatty acids, is steadily creeping into a wide range of food and beverage products (the Label Insight database features 274 products containing hemp in some form, from whole hemp seeds to hemp seed oil); although hemp protein is primarily used in energy, protein and muscle recovery drinks, and snack/energy/granola bars.

However, while it is legal to sell and consume foods and beverages containing hemp seeds in the US (the world's largest consumer of hemp products), the US is the only major industrialized country that largely outlaws domestic hemp production, so it is typically sourced from Canada, Asia or the Middle East, said Rillorta.

“We get ours ​[AIDP has a 70% hemp protein concentrate] from China, but I think everyone is hoping that the laws change in the US."

As for its nutritional profile, hemp protein - which he says has most potential in bars, ready to drink beverages and ready to mix protein powders – is high in arginine, which sports enthusiasts like as it is a vasodilator (arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels and decrease blood pressure). 

While it is low in lysine, it works well in combination with other proteins higher in lysine such as pea, he said.

Sacha inchi

Sacha inchi protein, meanwhile, is starting to creep into some US foods and beverages (the Label Insight database features 62 products containing Sacha Inchi in some form), although Americans are less familiar with it than they are with hemp, said Rillorta.

“What’s interesting about sacha inchi ​[AIDP has a 60% protein concentrate] is that it has a PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score​) of 0.87​,” (To place this in context, whey has a score of 1.0, the highest scores, while soy protein concentrate is around 0.97 to 0.99, pea is around 0.7 and rice around 0.5).

‘Silkier’ pea proteins

AIDP is also launching new hydrolyzed wheat proteins and ‘extra smooth’ versions of its rice and pea proteins. RisaPro XS and PeasiPro XS, which Rillorta said boast a "silkier​" texture designed for improved taste and mouth feel, particularly in beverages, ready-to-drink applications, and high protein content powder shakes. 

Interested in protein trends? Tune into our FREE 60-minute online PROTEIN forum​ on November 4

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1 comment


Posted by Ed Olaechea,

Sacha Inchi seeds are a great source of amino acids, and yet 50% of the seed is composed of oil consisting basically of unsaturated fatty acids, of which 48% is omega 3, 36% omega 6, and 8% omega 9, making this oilseed one of the highest and most balanced sources of omega 3 and other unsaturated fatty acids. Sacha inchi should definitely be considered a super food due to the amount of protein, omegas, and vitamin E it has. For more info. visit HerbaZest.

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