Cochayuyo is a common native algae found along the shores of Chile. If you get a chance to visit the coastal cities of Chile you will likely run across this seaweed being sunned by the coast, sold in bundles at local farmer’s markets and also used in various culinary dishes along the country. If you are lucky you might also see very large bundles of this seaweed being transported on trucks to be sold overseas to the highest bidder.
The word “Cochayuyo” actually comes to us from the Quechua language, with cocha = sea and yuyo = weed. This is also referred to as “Collofe” in Mapudungun (from the Mapuche people). Cochayuyo’s scientific name is Durvillaea antartica and is referred to as “Bull Kelp” in English. This seaweed is also found off the shores off New Zealand.
This kelp has the ability to grow to very large lengths, as long as 50 ft. Cochayuyo is not like other algae and kelp, the “blades” of the seaweed appear almost leather-like and there are no air bladders to keep the algae afloat. Cochayuyo’s internal honeycomb structure of the blades allow it to retain air and therefore float by the shorelines. This honeycomb structure also protects the kelp from getting damaged from the strong coastal waves that batter the shore.
Cochayuyo has been eaten by the native communities of Chile for thousands of years (Cochayuyo has been found in the archeological site of Monte Verde in Southern Chile which dates back 14,000 years). Cochayuyo has successfully remained part of the Chilean cuisine and culture. The cochayuyo can be described in taste as both nutty and mushroomy. You can see this seaweed in stews, as a filling for empanadas, mashed in with potatoes, in ceviche and most commonly in salads. The salad is usually the cochayuyo (which has been soaked overnight) that is accompanied with onions, cilantro/parsley with lemon juice and olive oil. The base of the seaweed which attaches to the rock is referred to as huilte (aka ulte or lenfÃ¼). This part of the cochayuyo is more specialized food item which needs to be boiled for a long time and is also usually eaten in a salad preparation.
Cochayuyo has also made its mark into Chilean slang.
1. Negro como cochayuyo: Since the cochayuyo when it is in the ocean has a very dark appearance, almost black – many people use it to describe when someone has gotten a deep tan.
“Despues de un dia en la playa quede negro como cochayuyo”.
2. Remojar el cochayuyo: This refers to the sexual act. Cochayuyo is usually dried in the sun which makes it hard and needs to be soaked in water before it can be used.
“Perdon que llego tarde, tenia que remojar el cochayuyo”.