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The multiple properties of cochayuyo, the Chilean seaweed

It was a key food for the indigenous peoples of southern Chile. Nowadays, its potential uses are enormous: from fertilizer to cosmetics, and even as fuel.

Friday, May 14, 2010  
The multiple properties of Chilean seaweed (cochayuyo) It is much more than a simple marine organism

"Cochayuyo" is a variety of seaweed that is found in abundance on the sands of Chilean beaches. It is much more than a simple marine organism. Currently, it is the target of scientists, not only because of its many uses as food or fertilizer, but also because it could become a new energy source.

 

The Durvillaea Antarctica, or better known as “cochayuyo,” is recognized by its peculiar pattern of brown strips which can be as long as 15 meters.  It has an intensely salty and marine aroma, and it is a traditional ingredient of southern Chilean cuisine, especially on the coasts.

 

The word "cochayuyo" comes from the Quechua language "qhutra juju, "which means "sea plant". The stem is round and has air spaces. This is the portion used in Chilean cuisine.  In central and southern Chile it is called “ulte,” “lunfo” in Valdivia, and “raguay” in Chiloé.

 

 A Unique culinary ingredient


“Cochayuyo” was consumed by the indigenous communities that inhabited the area of Valdivia and Osorno as a replacement for meat because of its high protein content.  Today it is appreciated for its remarkable medicinal properties. It is recommended for weight control, to lower cholesterol, to prevent constipation, goiter, hypothyroidism, heartburn, plus it is an energizer thanks to its vitamins and minerals.

 

It can be eaten in multiple ways: as jam, "empanadas" , "ceviche", grilled or mashed, croquettes, and even seaweed risottos. But its most common use is in stews like "charquicán", a typical Chilean dish as well as in salads.

 

For all of these reasons, several Chilean restaurants use it as a main ingredient in their best dishes. For example, "El Huerto" features "cochayuyo ceviche".  Chef, Sun Flieman, who is also the owner’s daughter, claims, "This is one of our more popular dishes among foreigners, for its different taste and texture The fact that is so well received by visitors indicates that the seaweed industry is growing in Chile."

 

Indeed, each year Chile exports $ 800,000 U.S. dollars in “cochayuyo” to Taiwan, its main destination, where it is sent dried and is then re-hydrated at the time of preparation.

 

Properties as a fertilizer


Algae like “cochayuyo” seaweed have properties that not only benefit people. Soils can be watered with this kind of conditioner that helps maintain moisture. Its high mineral content allows it to make a great contribution to agriculture.

 

Manufacture of cosmetics


Hydrocolloids extracted from this seaweed have molecules that give viscosity to creams and lotions. In fact, almost all cosmetics include among their ingredients "seaweed extract," that’s why it is so common that they are incorporated in this class of products. In addition, “cochayuyo” contains alginate and carrageenan, which are responsible for optimizing the properties of the cosmetics, enhancing their ability to moisturize the skin.

 

Fuels


But there are still other uses for seaweed. Most recently, scientists from Chile and the United States have focused on this organism, since they indicate that it can be used for the generation of biofuels such as  ethanol, being a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels.

 

Moreover, they believe it is possible to produce over 160 million liters of this compound, which could replace 5% of Chile's consumption of gasoline per year, a figure more than considerable. If this project succeeds, it would mean a great opportunity of an alternative fuel for the country.

 

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