Sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis L.)-from lost crop of the Incas to part of the solution to global challenges?

Planta. 2020 Mar 17;251(4):80. doi: 10.1007/s00425-020-03377-3.


The underutilized, oleaginous crop Plukenetia volubilis L. has a remarkable lipid composition and a large potential for further domestication, alleviation of malnutrition, and integration into sustainable food production systems. Current global challenges include climate change, increasing population size, lack of food security, malnutrition, and degradation of arable lands. In this context, a reformation of our food production systems is imperative. Underutilized crops, or orphan crops, can provide valuable traits for this purpose, e.g., climate change resilience, nutritional benefits, cultivability on marginal lands, and improvement of income opportunities for smallholders. Plukenetia volubilis L. (Euphorbiaceae)-sacha inchi-is a 'lost crop' of the Incas native to the Amazon basin. Its oleaginous seeds are large, with a high content of ω-3, and -6 fatty acids (ca. 50.5, and 34.1%, of the lipid fraction, respectively), protein, and antioxidants. Culinarily, the seeds are nut-like and the crop has been associated with humans since Incan times. Research has particularly been undertaken in seed biochemistry, and to some extent in phylogeny, genetics, and cultivation ecology, but attention has been unevenly distributed, causing knowledge gaps in areas such as ethnobotany, allergenicity, and sustainable cultivation practices. Recently, seed size evolution and molecular drivers of the fatty acid synthesis and composition have been studied, however, further research into the lipid biosynthesis is desirable. Targeted breeding has not been undertaken but might be especially relevant for yield, sensory qualities, and cultivation with low environmental impact. Similarly, studies of integration into sustainable management systems are of highest importance. Here, present knowledge on P. volubilis is reviewed and a general framework for conducting research on underutilized crops with the aim of integration into sustainable food production systems is presented.

Keywords: Inca peanut; Lipid biosynthesis; Omega-3; Polyunsaturated fatty acids; Sustainability; Underutilized plant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Carbohydrates / chemistry
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Crops, Agricultural / chemistry*
  • Euphorbiaceae / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • Phytochemicals / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry
  • Plant Oils / chemistry
  • Plant Proteins / chemistry
  • Seeds / chemistry
  • Taste


  • Antioxidants
  • Carbohydrates
  • Phytochemicals
  • Plant Extracts
  • Plant Oils
  • Plant Proteins