What are phytotoxins and how do they affect us?
Phytotoxins are substances that are harmful or toxic to the growth of plants. They are made up of a variety of biologically active chemical substances including alkaloids, polypeptides, amines, glycosides, oxalates, resins, and toxalbumins. The big question is if phytotoxins are harmful to plants, how do they affect humans? Phytotoxins can, in higher doses, be dangerous for humans to ingest. Fortunately, we know to avoid the most threatening substances (hemlock, nightshade, snakeroot, etc.) and reduce the content of any potentially harmful substances in other ingredients. In fact, many of our favorite ingredients contain phytotoxins that are effectively reduced for safe consumption. For example, cyanogenic glycosides are a phytotoxin found in ingredients such as cassava, sorghum, stone fruits, and almonds!
So should you be worried?
Probably not! According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “In a usual balanced, healthy diet, the levels of natural toxins are well below the threshold for acute and chronic toxicity.”
As long as you are avoiding ingredients and foods that are known to contain high levels of toxicity (see examples above) and following the general guidelines provided by the WHO, you should be completely safe and healthy.
Are there phytotoxins in Sacha Inchi Seeds?
Sacha Inchi is an oleaginous (oil producing) plant originating in the Amazonian rainforest. With its nickname, The Incan Peanut, we know that it is common in the South American region, but it is only just starting to gain popularity here in the United States.
As we learn more about this plant and its seeds, questions arise surrounding the nutritional and anti-nutritional contents. While there are not as many studies on sacha inchi as there are for other seeds and nuts, we know a good amount of information on how to most effectively increase the flavor of the seeds while decreasing the amount of potential toxins.
As discussed above, many food plants contain secondary metabolites that effectively repel insect herbivores, but they likely won’t cause acute effects in humans who eat a moderate and varied diet. A 2018 study found evidence of mild cytotoxicity after participants ingested raw sacha inchi seeds. Additionally, a 2021 study discovered the presence of phytotoxins including alkaloids, lectins, and saponins. However, a 2022 study concluded that while these toxins were detected in raw sacha inchi, the contents were significantly reduced after exposure to heat and perfectly safe to consume. Simply put, eat roasted seeds not raw!
Here at Brass Roots, we steam roast our Sacha Inchi seeds using a “low and slow” technique. This means that the raw seeds are roasted at a lower temperature for a longer amount of time. This method not only reduces the phytotoxin level significantly, it increases the naturally rich and unique flavor of the seed. Once the roasting process is complete, we add on our seasoning, package them up, and ship them out!