A perennial shrub native to the American tropics, Jatropha curcas grows on poor soils in unfavourable climatic conditions.
Stuttgart-headquartered JatroSolutions has been focused on bringing chuta to market as a food ingredient since 2015.
Founded as an affiliation of Hohenheim University after researching the nut and its potential uses, the company registered the name Chuta as a trademark and recently submitted a request for novel food approval under EFSA’s new streamlined application process.
“Our objective is to increase Chuta yields and quality, develop an innovative market and contribute to securing global nutrition and food supply in a sustainable manner,” director of JatroSolutions’s Chuta business unit Lissette Hernandez told FoodNavigator.
In order to further uptake of the nut, JatroSolutions offers technical assistance to companies wanting to farm or manufacture the nut.
Non-edible varieties also exist and are currently used as biofuels, but the lesser known edible nut is commonly known as piñón in Mexico.
Hernandez said it has been used as a food by the Totonacas, an indigenous group in the Mexican Veracruz region who use the protein-rich kernel meal in traditional dishes such as tamales and pipián.
“We estimate consumers in Europe will be highly interested in this product innovation because increasingly, people tend to follow a healthy nutrition,” she said. “Their demand for protein-rich and low-carb products is growing continuously. As an alternative vegetable protein source, Chuta fits perfectly to a vegetarian or vegan nutrition.
“We also think sports lovers will appreciate Chuta as a tasty and protein-rich snack offering advantages in muscle building. Furthermore, Chuta can represent an alternative protein source in developing countries where certain type of resources are scarce.”
Somewhere between sunflower seeds and peanuts
Chuta has a crunchy texture and "its own special flavour,” Hernandez said. “Some say it is similar to sunflower seeds whereas other say it tastes like peanuts.”
According to JatroSolutions, the nuts contain up to 60% oil that is high in unsaturated fatty acids, around 30% protein and are low in carbohydrates, sodium and sugar. They also pack in the minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
Unlike other nuts, chuta is allergen-free but has a relatively simple post-harvest process. Once the fruit husks are removed, the in-shell nuts are dried. The nuts are then shelled and roasted.
Chuta can be used as an ingredient in bread, bakery products, cereals and confectionery products, the company said. It is currently developing protein fortified tortillas.
JatroSolutions, which is looking for partners to scale up cultivation and processing, is currently running several breeding stations and testing sites in Cameroon, Paraguay and India where it is working on yield stability and seed quality.
It also sells seeds to grow Chuta and provides consulting for all production steps.
JatroSolutions said it has seen interest in many regions of the world, including Central and South America, India, Central and East Africa and Europe.