Thursday, April 15, 2010

Seaweed: Cochayuyo and Luche

There are many reasons why I recommend sea vegetables as part of my healing programs -- weight loss, cellulite control, detoxification, beautiful hair and skin, and more. Sea vegetables can transform your health! I believe that when we eat sea vegetables, and when we take seaweed baths, we are tapping into the ancestral and restorative source of all life -- the ocean. Include sea vegetables into your diet every day and you’ll see a difference. I do! Sea plants -- gifts from the sea!  Dr. Linda Page, Healthy
Just because they are darlings of the food-quack set (note that Dr. Linda holds degrees in Naturopathy and Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health![1]) there is no reason to reject seaweeds out of hand.  Chileans have been eating them for 14,000 years (see Eating Paleo-Chilean:  Food at Monte Verde); and they have been consumed since prehistoric times in China, Japan and Korea, and along the NW coast of Europe in Norway, Ireland, France, as well as in Iceland, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.[2]

Here in Chile two types are common, cochayuyo, and luchi (in bags).

Cochayuyo, bull kelp (Durvillaea antarctica), is the dominant seaweed species in southern Chile and New Zealand.  It appears in the Monte Verde archeological site in southern Chile (along with 8 other seaweed species) dating to approximately 14,000 years ago.[3]  The Mapuche, the indigenous people of south central Chile, were making extensive use of it when the Spanish arrived, calling it collofe; cochayuyo is from the Quechua, meaning “seaweed.”

The Spanish adopted it early.  Eugenio Pereira Salas, in his classic Notes for the History of Chilean Cuisine, quotes Spanish conquistador Cortéz Ojea:  On April 15, 1558, the Indians
…began to bring some wild herbs that grow on the sea shores and are like turnips or snakes, which we stewed in this manner:  We roasted the hard stems, like fat radishes, in the ashes to make them more tender and then we put them on to boil in small pieces like fingers, five or six hours; we added flour and mashed them well, then returned them to the pots and cooked them an hour with limpets and shellfish. The leaves we mixed with flour and we made bread, that is tortillas; they had 2/3 flour and one third herb, and some had as much herb as flour.[4]

Fortunately, Cortéz Ojea’s recipe did not become a part of Chilean Creole cuisine, but Cochayuyo did, in dozens of Creole dishes such as [click for English recipes]: charquican de cochayuyo (cachayuyo hash), pastel de cochayuyo (cahayuyo pie),empanadas de cochayuyo, cazuela de corero con cachayuyo (lamb pot-au-feu with cochayuyo), etc. 

The basic preparation methods involve soaking over night and/or boiling for 20 minutes or so in water with a bit of vinegar or lemon juice, then scraping the fronds (which may have a soft coating), cutting into bite sized pieces and sautéing or simmering with other ingredients: beans, potatoes and onions, etc.  Salads are even simpler:  cut prepared cochayuyo into bite sized pieces, add minced onion and cilantro (and other vegetables to taste) and dress with oil and lemon juice.

Nutritionally cochayuyo is quite remarkable; even if you don’t share Dr. Page’s claim that eating it is “tapping into the ancestral and restorative source of all life.” It is practically fat free, low in calories and high in protein (about ¼ the calories and the same amount of protein as 100 gm. wheat), and has over 100% of the US Recommended Daily Allowances for fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, iodine, and (unfortunately) sodium.

 Sources:  Values, and % USRDA

How does it taste?  Bland, salty, perhaps a little smoky; not at all strong or pungent. The texture is a bit elastic, chewy. Dozens of Spanish-language websites have copied each other saying it has an “intense flavor of the sea,” but frankly, it doesn’t have an intense flavor of anything; perhaps that’s why it combines with so many foods. 

Why haven’t you eaten it? Well, except in the occasional mariscada (dish of mixed shellfish) it is unlikely to be served in Chilean restaurants or middle class homes.  Like many other traditional Chilean foods (chilies, garlic, lamb) it is associated with poor, rural, and even worse, indigenous Chileans.  In her PhD dissertation, Identities, Racial Mixing and Social Differences in Osorno, Chile: Readings from the Anthropology of Food, Chilean anthropologist Sonia Monecino Aguirre argues that:

This is what has occurred with luche and cochayuyo among the middle and upper classes; they are an adult feminine taste rejected by children and youths, as well as adult men.  We have encountered cases where women “clandestinely” with their employees, or even alone, prepare dishes of cochayuyo that only they eat, preparing another dish for the rest.  …..Cochayuyo is an important social marker associated with poverty, and in the past, as a vicarious substitute for meat, thus it has negative symbolism among the social scale of foods.[5] 

More recipes?  Here’s a non-traditional one I found in a vegetarian blog, Cousiñas de Ro. from Barcelona.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds interesting.  Let me know what you think.

Cochayuyo Paté with Reduction of Balsamic Vinegar

40 gm. Cochayuyo, dry weight
60 gm. Walnuts
2 generous tablespoons olive oil
A squeeze of lemon juice
2 heaping tablespoons of brewer’s yeast [if you have it]
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons onion
2 tablespoons parsley
A pinch of cayenne

Soak the cochayuyo over night.  Drain and blend with the other ingredients.  Add water if too dry.  Top with additional balsamic vinegar reduction.


Luche (lower right and center) with dried shellfish, Angelmó, Puerto Montt

Luche, sea lettuce, is the other popular Chilean alga.  It is often a mix of two similar species, Porphyra columbina and Ulva rigida, harvested together along rocky Chilean shores.   It is usually sold dried, pressed into “breads” as in the photo above, or sold loose, as below.

 20 gm. luche

Other species of Porphyra are harvested in Japan where it is known as nori – and used to wrap sushi – and in Ireland and Wales, where it is called laver, and made into laver bread, a traditional Welsh delicacy.

Luche is prepared by soaking in water (3-4 hours if cold, 20-30 minutes if hot), or by grinding into flakes in a food processor of blender.  Like cochayuyo, it is rich in fiber, minerals (including salt), and protein, as well as Vitamin C.[6]

 Luche is eaten mainly in the Chilean south, where it is popular among rural people and fishing families, Mapuche and mestizo.  It is made into filling for empanadas, used in charquican, sautéed with potatoes and onions, prepared as a budin (with bread, milk, eggs and cheese), and added to salads, soups and stews; and in a classic southern dish, lamb cazuela with luche.  It can also be added to any soup, risotto, sauce or sauté, and the dry flakes can be sprinkled over rice, pasta, or other foods as an herbal salt substitute.

Soaked (below) and flaked luche 

It is also common on Chilean Chinese restaurant menus, as a stir-fry “con algas.”  The photo to the right is “Five-flavors pork con algas” from one of Santiago’s best known (and most oddly named) Chinese Restaurants, El Placio Danubio Azul.


In the prize winning recipe below Chilean Chef Miriam Andrea Yunge Rojas has adapted the “genuinely Chiloe dish …that has been transmitted verbally and visually across the generations.”  

(Pot-au-fue of Chiloe Lamb and Luche)

8 small lamb chops [or better, shoulder with bones-JS]
4 native Chiloe potatoes
50 gm. dry luche
1 tablespoon garlic paste with oregano [or garlic + oregano]
Salt, pepper, merkén, and Chilean pepper[7] to taste
1 generous tablespoon lard
Fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, oregano, etc.)
1 shallot or ¼ onion

Soak the luche in water for at least 4 hours in cold water to cover, then wash well eliminating any sand. Sear the chops in the lard in a hot skillet, add the shallot or onion, garlic paste, and seasonings and sauté until browned.  Add 1 ½ quarts of water or broth and simmer until the meat is tender.  Add the luche and simmer another 30 minutes, then add the potatoes for 10 minutes, or until done. Check seasoning and serve in bowls, sprinkled with fresh herbs.

Another Nuevo Chileno dish, this one by Chef Luis Cruzat of the Restaurant Latin Grill, combines luche with quinoa, merkén, and Patagonian lamb.

(Lamb Chops al Merkén with Quinoa and Luche)

4 Lamb Chops
1 cup Quinoa
30 gm luche soaked and boiled 20 mintes
1 teaspoon merkén
1 tomato
reduction--meat stock & wine (Glace viande)
salt & pepper

Wash well and cook the quinoa in 2 cups salted water, as you would cook rice. While it is cooking, coarsely chop the luche and cut the tomato in cubes. Season with salt, pepper, merkén and cilantro.

Season the chops with salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic, and sear in a skillet with a little olive oil. Remove to a hot over and and roast for 5 to 10 minutes.
Drizzle the plate with the reduced stock, and serve the chops with the quinoa.


Or, for something simple Papas con Luche, Potatoes with Luche:  Soak a good handful of luche in water for 2 or 3 hours (or in hot water for 20 minutes) wash and drain thoroughly.  Sauté in oil or lard (or bacon grease!) with a medium onion, garlic, and a coarsely grated carrot.  Season with oregano, cumin, chili, and serve over boiled potatoes.  The taste is mild and a little smoky.

[1] Clayton College of Natural Health is the subject of “Clayton College of Natural Health: Be Wary of the School and Its Graduates” by Stephen Barrett, M.D. on line at
[2] Edible seaweed, Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia, on line at
[3] Monte Verde: Seaweed, Food, Medicine, and the Peopling of South America. Tom D. Dillehay, et al. Science 320, 784. May 9, 2008
[4] Pereira Salas, Eugenio.  1977. Apuntes para la historia de la cocina chilena.  Santiago : Universitaria.  p. 23 on line at
[5] Montecino Aguirre, Sonia. 2006. Identidades, mestizajes y diferencias sociales en
Osorno, Chile. Lecturas desde la Antropología de la Alimentación”. Tesis Doctoral,
Publicación Electrónica de la Universidad de Leiden, Holanda.  p. 65 (notes)
[6] Fajardo MA, Alvarez F, Pucci OH, Martín de Portela ML. 1998.  Contents of various nutrients, minerals and seasonal fluctuations in Porphyra columbina, an edible marine algae from the Argentine Patagonian coast. Archivos Latinoameridcanos de Nutricion Nutr.  Sep;48(3):260-4.  On line at and El Alga Nory. Alimentafion Sana.  on line at
[7] Seeds of canelo, Drimys winteri


  1. If only we had brought home some cochayuyo . . .

  2. If only Edmar was still open; they would surely have it.


  3. Some yummy recipes here.

    A little known fact is that seaweed is also used in diet pills as an appetite suppressant.

  4. where do we find or buy this cochayuyo?, if anybody knows please let us know. We are in California, USA

    1. go to chilean product on line , type buy chilean products , have a place offer diferent products ,

  5. Try this link:


  6. I'm eating cochayuyo right now ... brought from Chile to GA

  7. I hear it's good with grits. :-)

  8. Do you know where I can buy Cochayuyo in Seattle.
    Also do you know if I'm bring those from Chile is any problem in the airport when I came at USA?

  9. Sorry, Evelyn. I can't answer either question. But try asking for kelp - which is what cochayuyo is - in Seattle health food stores.

    1. Although it is a brown seaweed, it is not a kelp (the large brown seaweeds in the order Laminariales that occur mostly in the northern hemisphere) and is unlikely to taste exactly the same. Still very good.

  10. I really love your blog, is very instructive and "ameno".
    Here I found recipes for luche I couldn't find in other chilean pages.
    I must admit, being a chilean woman, that reading about chilean food and how others looks our food is very interesting and kind of funny in a way


    1. Chilenita en USA estoy de acuerdo pero dame tu receta!! Lo major de Chile Lindo...gracias

  11. Gracias, Lechugita. It's interesting that many of my sources are also foreigners; food is so commonplace that natives (of any culture) seldom comment on what they eat. But foreigners find it new and write about it.

  12. Can you please tell me how I can buy seaweed from Chile. I have checked the usual "Google" searches and find minimum orders of 40 tons. Do you have any resources who would any and all types of seaweed from Chile in family size quantities? Any help you can offer will be greatly appreciated.

    1. You might try some of the vendors listed here: Good luck.

  13. Cochayuyo or Luche...can we find them in Canada (Montreal). Those two belong to the classifications of KELP?

    1. Sorry Roxana, I have no idea; I don't get to Montreal very often. According to Wikipedia cochayuyo is a "species in the Laminariales that may be considered as kelp." Luche is not.

    2. I bought cochayuyo at Rosa Chilena Bakery in Toronto on wilson ave.

  14. hi, I bought Luche in bread on February 2012. Never cooked it and it is still inside the same plastic bag. How do I know if it still safe eating?

    1. If you mean a "loaf" of dry luche (like those in the photo above) it should be fine. Open the bag and if it's still dry and shows no signs of mold, etc. re-hydrate some and try it.

    2. thanks Jim, I will try.
      I am Chilean and I am studying cooking, I found this blog by chance when searching for 'luche' it is funny that I found a lot of information in a foreigner site instead of a Chilean one. Congratulations, I will start reading all previous posts. This is a very interesting blog, I like pictures and recipies a lot.

    3. Gracias, Gilda. Espero que encuentras mas post que te interesen.


  15. Francamente, me asombra que UD diga que el cochayuyo solo lo comen los pobres. Mi familias paternas y maternas en Chile no eramos ricos, ni tampoco pobre. mi mama cocinaba comida del mar cada Viernes y cochayuyo o luche dos veces por mes.

    1. ¡Excelente! Estoy seguro de que algunas personas de todas las clases sociales comen cochayuyo, pero tal vez debería leer el comentario de Dr. Sonia Montecino Aguirre de nuevo. Eso no es exactamente lo que dijo.

  16. hola , sabes donde puedo comprar luche en usa or canada?

  17. Hola sabes dondese puede comprar luche en USA o Canada?

  18. Puedes comprar nori, una alga japonés muy parecido, en tiendas orientales y muchas supermercados en EEUU y Canadá. Se usa para hacer sushi.

  19. Ahora pueden encontrar El Cochayuyo aca en USA.

  20. Thanks Unknown. For non Spanish speakers, he says: " You can now buy cochayuyo in the USA" and give us a link.


Sorry, no more anonymous posts. I was getting too much spam. Email me (see my profile) if you would like to comment and have no account. Jim