At the SupplySide West tradeshow in Las Vegas, Amazon Health Products' debuted its Starseed brand of Sacha Inchi products.
"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 for many reasons," Wallis Winder, founder of Amazon Health Products, told FoodNavigator-USA.
Amazon Health Products’ main business is as an ingredient supplier, but under the Starseed brand the company produces a few finished products including: Sacha Inchi cold-pressed oil, protein powder, butter, fat powder, and snack seeds.
'We found this beautiful star-shaped pod....'
The Amazon rainforest, specifically the eastern slope running along the Andes mountains in Peru, has been seen as a wellspring of ingredient discovery due to the region's rich biodiversity and fertile growing conditions.
Many of these ingredients, some with ‘superfood’ nutrient profiles, have flown well under the radar -- so much so, as a Peruvian, Winder had never even heard of Sacha Inchi growing up just a few hours away from the rainforest.
It wasn’t until Winder and his childhood friend/business partner, Juan Manuel Benavides, started a reforestation project over ten years ago in Peru's Amazon region, that he came across the star-shaped green pod well known among Amazonian farmers but virtually unknown to the rest of the world.
“On one of our hikes, we found this beautiful star shaped pod. We asked around and people told us that native small communities there would put it into stews and used the oil from the seeds to keep their skin moist,” Winder said.
“Then we sent it to the lab and we were blown away. Nutrition wise, it’s very, very nutrient dense.”
Sacha Inchi is a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid, and also high in linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid), vitamin E, dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A and other antioxidants
“It is loaded in omega-3s and eventually we also found that its protein content is also high [containing 9 essential amino acids],” Winder said.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that Sacha Inchi powder is also extremely high in tryptophan, an amino acid essential to the production of serotonin (a nervous system chemical involved in regulating appetite).
The company initially focused on the oil extracted from the super seeds for cosmetics, but is switching gears to focus on its potential as a food and nutrition ingredient.
The oil has the added benefit of being very stable able to withstand a high smoke point before the omega fatty acids start to oxidize and break down, losing their nutrient potency.
Winder said that a 100-year-old restaurant in Tokyo is using the oil to fry tempura.
Ready for prime-time?
According to Winder, Starseed is one of the first companies to enter the food space with Sacha Inchi products – the skin care industry has been using Sacha Inchi in a number of products for years.
“We always saw the bigger potential for growth in the food industry,” Winder said.
According to Winder, through years of trust-building with Amazonian farmers, the company now works with roughly 1,000 Amazon family farms to grow and harvest Sacha Inchi.
“A farmer goes from basically living from subsistence agriculture just making enough to survive, to working directly with a company we pay Fair Trade Certified prices. So what these farmers start to see is a strong cash flow,” said Winder.
Sacha Inchi is also not a seasonal plant and produces year-round.
“This was major for us; once it starts producing, it starts producing heftily, producing a lot of seeds,” said Winder.
The company exports its Sacha Inchi ingredients to 23 countries with Asia being a core market. Moving forward, Winder wants to position Sacha Inchi as a clean source of plant-based protein.
“It’s still at the very surface [of market penetration and availability]. There are a few different suppliers out there, but now it’s a matter of organizing [the industry] a little bit better,” he said.