Ahiflower is an oilseed crop that has more than four-times the omega-3 benefits of flaxseed oil. As more consumers seek out plant-based alternatives, the Ahiflower finds itself at the forefront of the emerging trend.
Derived from the seeds of the corn gromwell plant (Buglossoides arvensis), Ahiflower oil is different from fish and flaxseed oil in that it is converted in the body into biologically active forms of fatty acid. It is a rich source of stearidonic acid (SDA), which humans break down and convert to beneficial eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the two kinds of omega-3s found in fish. Ahiflower oil converts to EPA 300-400% more efficiently than flaxseed oil, proponents say.
Andrew Hebard, CEO of Nature Crops which manufactures Ahiflower oil, told NutraIngredients-USA since Ahiflower oil also contains the omega-6 GLA, it effectively combines the benefits of fish oil and evening primrose oil in one product.
“It’s the only plant seed oil that combines high levels (20%) of SDA (the most biologically advanced omega 3 available from plants, with a 400% increased conversion to EPA compared to ALA) and high levels of GLA (the most biologically advanced omega 6 available from plants and with clear proven health benefits. Typically, GLA is taken as a supplement derived from either evening primrose or borage seed oil). There’s really no other oil as rich in these biologically-advanced omegas as ahiflower.”
From capsules to food
In 2016, Natures Crop began producing Ahiflower to for use in capsules. Now, Hebard told us, the company is exploring all of their options.
“Up until now, we have been selling Ahilfower oil to supplement brand partners who have put the oil into softgel capsules and sold it as a dietary supplement to their customers. We are now looking to incorporate Ahiflower oil into food applications also, by replacing some of the existing fats and oils with a healthier option. For example, incorporating Ahiflower oil into a salad dressing and replacing, say, the canola or sunflower oil, enables a greatly improved health profile for many day-to-day food items,” he said.
To help work the oil into food applications, Natures Crops recently announced a new partnership with Blue Pacific Flavors. They plan to use Ahiflower as a plant-based milk alternative. The oil will be available for formulating into beverages such as oat, soy and nut milks. The company says this is the first time a product of this type has been targeted for inclusion in foods.
“It can be used to fortify food products such as ‘dairy alternative beverages’ (e.g. soy, almond and oat milk), where people want to get a plant-based beverage that offers a broad spectrum of added nutritional benefits. Unlike other sources of omegas such as marine and algal oils, which don’t offer a complete spectrum of omegas and have taste and shelf life challenges, Ahiflower has great food ingredient flexibility,” said Hebard.
While more studies are needed, what research that has been done shows the oil has many health benefits. Hebard told NutraIngredients that the Ahiflower is one space to keep an eye on:
“There’s some really interesting science emerging about how plant-derived omegas are metabolized and we feel this will give consumers a lot of confidence knowing their nutritional requirements can be obtained from good plant sources. Watch this space.”
Indeed, a 2017 study published in Nutrients highlighted the anti-inflammatory benefits of Ahiflower oil over other plant-based oils. For this study, 88 adults were given a daily supplement of either ahiflower oil, sunflower oil, or a combination of the two oils for 28 days.
Researchers found that the groups provided with Ahiflower displayed significant increases in EPA, ETA, DPA, and ALA levels from baseline values, and compared to the control sunflower oil-only group. However, no significant increases in DHA levels were recorded.
This year alone, the global fish-free omega-3 ingredients market is expected to rake in $590 million, according to a recent report by Transparency Market Research, and is estimated to reach nearly $1.3 billion by 2029.
The report points out that the increased demand for plant-based ingredients in the food sector has shined a light on the fish-free omega-3 market. “The buyer’s knowledge regarding the food being consumed is surging above advantages of omega-3s and maintaining a balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 in a regular diet. The demand is now changing from type of omega fatty acid to source of it, among the health-conscious buyers across the globe. This is stimulating the growth in global fish-free omega-3 ingredients market.”
The report also says that most people believe that omega-3 oil comes from fish.
“But the truth is, it comes from the algae that fish eat. Omega-3 oil from fish is no longer sustainable. Overfishing and fish-farming have a seriously detrimental effect on the marine environment. And, on top of that, research has shown that the vast majority of fish caught now contain industrial toxins and pollutants.”
The sustainability factor
Players in the fish-free omega-3 ingredients market are riding on the demand of sustainable, plant-based ingredients.
"It can take one small oily fish, such as a sardine, to produce just one 1,000 mg capsule of fish oil," explained Hebard. “We are passionate about our environmental footprint and increasingly looking for ways to give greater benefit to the biosphere, one initiative we have underway is looking to produce all our ahiflower crops under Regenerative Agricultural practices. We’ve just completed this year’s harvest and have had tremendous results. Growers have achieved record yields and record profitability from the crop…one acre of Ahiflower has produced as much omega rich oil as more than 300,000 anchovies.”
2017, 9(3), 261; doi:10.3390/nu9030261
“Dietary Buglossoides Arvensis Oil Increases Circulating n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in a Dose-Dependent Manner and Enhances Lipopolysaccharide-Stimulated Whole Blood Interleukin-10—A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial”
Authors: N. Lefort, R LeBlanc, M.E. Surette