Ancient Food Turns Trendy: Seaweed And Other Ocean-Grown Plants Find New Life As Both Staple And Delicacy

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Weeds From The Deep Wind Up on Plates In Five-Star Restaurants–And Fill The Stew Bowls Of The World’s Poorest

A different kind of weed has top-notch chefs across South America seeking it out in obscure locales–but you wouldn’t want to smoke it. For one thing, it is likely to be pretty damp; it is harvested from the ocean after all.

Chef Rodolfo Guzman of the award-winning Santiago, Chile restaurant Borago, makes regular trips to the Pacific coast, searching for cochayuyo, a protein-rich, indigenous species of seaweed that he uses in his dishes, along with several other types of sea plant. He worked with biologists, anthropologists and mushroom specialists to develop his unique menu featuring haute cuisine derived from indigenous marine plants of Chile.

But the really cool thing about cochayuyo is that it is also staple part of the diet of thousands of coastal-dwelling Chileans of much more modest means than Guzman’s customers, as well as people living in other parts of South America.

Along with many other species of ocean-grown plant, cochayuyo is making a mark on world cuisine–and may well have a place in keeping the earth’s burgeoning population fed in the near future, perhaps pointing the way toward a sustainable, sea-going, vegetarian future for mankind.


“It’s a kelp tsunami,” said kelp entrepreneur Bren Smith in a recent interview with TakePart “I was expecting 10 years to get people to eat this weird, disgusting stuff.”

Smith, owner of the Thimble Island Oyster Co. in Connecticut, bill himself as a “kelp crusader, and indeed he has done wonders for getting the word out about the amazing benefits of the plant. His aquaculture business involves nurturing mussels and scallops on the sea bed alongside long strands of kelp which grows vertically above the bivalves, attached to ropes.

The system is brilliant not only in that it simulates the bivalves’ native environment, but also because the kelp plants naturally scrub the water of nitrogen pollution, and helps prevent ocean acidification in the area.

Smith hopes to “…make kelp the new kale.”

And back in Chile, the government has been on the cutting edge of creating a sustainable market for its native seaweed species–as well as ensuring the food security of its citizens. The Chilean government passed a law intended to promote the repopulation of natural seaweed beds, and it provides compensation for the poor wild seaweed collectors, promoting cultivation.

At the risk of being punny, it sounds like seaweed could be the wave of the future.

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