Algae in Chile, more than just a superfood

A great source of nutrients and with neverending benefits, little by little algae have gained importance in different areas of the Chilean market.

Banco de Imágenes Marca Chile | SERNATUR
Banco de Imágenes Marca Chile | SERNATUR

Across the more than 6.000 kilometers of shore that Chile has, it is possible to find several types and varieties of algae, which are commonly used as an ingredient in the traditional chilean cuisine, or as a meal in itself. The popularity of the algae in the gastronomic and nutritional area is mainly due to their unique and different flavors, along with its high levels of iron, calcium, iodine, potassium, and vitamin A, B and C, which has earned it the label of “superfood”.

For many years, Chile has been an important exporter of brown algae to countries in Asia and Europe, algae such as black “huiro”, “huiro palo” and sargassum, which lead to an increase in the utilization of resources, and it’s possible to consider the extraction of algae a more lucrative activity than fishing itself.

But this new found interest in algae has gone beyond its nutritional factors, in Chile as well as in countries that import these products, and several fields have taken advantage of the benefits of these seaweeds. In the field of cosmetics, algae are used for the making of creams, shampoo, dye and make up; taking advantage of its moisturising, antioxidant and regenerative properties, helping with the cleansing of the skin and the elimination of toxins.

Other uses of this plants have been developed in the farming and pharmacological industries, in the first field, algae are use as a fertilizer, improving the nutritive properties of the soil, stimulating the vegetal growth and preventing the appearance of undesired weed. In the pharmacologic field, algae are used in medicine and homeopathy, because of its antioxidant, coagulative, antitumoral effects, and its emollient, laxative and expectorant properties.

During recent years in Chile it has been studied its potential as an energy resource. A team formed by academics of the Universidad Católica de Chile, along with experts in automotive mechanic from DUOC UC, and researchers from the University of Colorado, have created biodiesel from micro-algae. This is achieved through a process in which the micro-algae are cultivated in photobioreactors, until they form biomass and oil.

It has been proven that the use of this fuel decreases in a 80% the release of gases in vehicles such as Transantiago buses and trucks, which could help reduce the pollution within the city of Santiago. Despite its many advantages, the production of this biodiesel has been limited due to the impossibility of making at a large scale and with a low cost.

In Chile, we have seen how different entrepreneurs have decided to make use of the most popular alga in the country, the cochayuyo, and innovate with it, such is the case of the delicious jam made by the “Algueros de Navidad”, a small city in the O’Higgins Region, and the novel use that the company Sisa has given it by creating clothing with this alga; a purpose that a few years ago would have been considered impossible.

This post is also available in Spanish