Posted by: Footler PJ22 MAY 2012
Marketing and advertising firms often promote products by highlighting an ingredient with an exotic-sounding name and hinting of a mysterious past. This is particularly so with the toiletries we sell in our community pharmacies.
One example is the Inca inchi oil found in several brands of skin and hair products. But what is Inca inchi oil? Where does it come from? And did the Inca actually use it?
Inca inchi oil is obtained from the seeds of Plukenetia volubilis, also known as sacha inchi, mountain peanut or Inca peanut. The plant originated in the Amazon rainforest but nowadays is cultivated mainly around Pichanaqui in Peru, an area of cloud forest where Amazonia meets the Andes. In suitable locations, P volubilis can be harvested several times a year so Oxfam and other support groups are encouraging indigenous villagers to grow the plant as a cash crop to bring money into rural areas.
The plant was indeed known to the Inca, who depicted its fruits and seeds on their ceramic ware. It grows to a height of about 2m and produces fruit capsules with four to seven lobes that ripen to a dark brown colour. The seeds contained in the lobes of the fruit are inedible raw but palatable when roasted.
Inca inchi oil is obtained from the seeds by cold pressing and needs no further refining. Apart from helping us to shimmer seductively under the pharmacy’s strip lighting, the oil is also valued for being rich in unsaturated fatty acids, essential fatty acids, iodine, vitamin A and vitamin E, yet having a low content of saturated fatty acids. It is high in omega fatty acids, consisting of 48 per cent omega-3, 36 per cent omega-6 and 9 per cent omega-9.
Inca inchi oil could, therefore, be a suitable alternative for people who cannot take fish oil. The oil has a mild nutty flavour and can be taken as it is or sprinkled on salads, pasta and cooked vegetables.