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
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
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.
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.