Exploring the Food Treasures of the Andean Chocó

Those of us who are dedicated to saving seeds have a special passion for hidden treasures, those plants that almost nobody knows, that have been forgotten, but that keep secrets of unique flavor and nutrition.

Nina Duarte, a Seed Guardian recognized by our network since 2007, is no exception. But she has taken her passion one step further: she has just published, digitally and for free, an impressive Guide to Unconventional Food Plants in the Chocó Andino.

Imagen Cortesia Red de Semillas

The Ecuadorian Andean Chocó is a very special land. It has sectors where high volumes of rain and permanent fog make it difficult to conventionally grow annual plants. It is also a very sensitive area ecologically, counting for example with the greatest diversity of birds in the world. A polyculture with an emphasis on edible forests, perennials, and orchards with adapted plants is a preferable form of production. But many of the food products that this ecosystem can produce are unknown, beyond some people who have preserved the cultural memory of their use. That’s why Nina’s research is so important. The fruit of several years of research and experimentation, with a very careful edition, this guide includes 37 edible plant cards.

Among the outstanding plants are pigweed, chamburo, chaya, chayote, chilma, mountain cabbage, Malabar spinach, banana flower, nettle, poroton, purslane, aerial potato, and an interesting selection of edible flowers. For each of them, Nina helps us to recognize them and tells us about their forms of reproduction, cultivation, nutritional contribution, and of course, recipes.

Of the pigweed (Amaranthus spp.), An omnipresent plant in the fields but commonly ignored, he tells us for example: “The leaves and young inflorescences are edible soaked in hot water or cooked. It can be used in all recipes instead of spinach. The seeds (harvested dry) can be consumed as cereal (20.53% protein) in the same way as amaranth. Food for pigs, chickens, tilapia, cows, rabbits, and guinea pigs. The species of pig that has the purple stem (A. hybridus) can be used as a coloring in drinks and pastries. “

Nina is also part of the Imaymana Foundation and leads the Sustainable Foods community of Chocó Andino, a recent but very active group within Slow Food Ecuador. We hope this guide crosses borders, as the information is very useful for tropical climates and cloud forests.

You can download the guide at:

Written by
Javier Carrera, Network of Seed Guardians

On November 15, a meeting of 3 chefs from the Slow Food Alliance of Ecuador was held to promote the use of non-conventional products, as part of the activities of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto.

Achik Zaruma from the “Chumbi” community, Mayté Tapia from the “Amawta Kawsay” convivium and Mauricio Molina from the “Alimentos Sustentables del Chocó Andino” community, with the Non-Conventional Plant Guide (PANC) of the Imaymana Foundation written by Nina Duarte de the “Sustainable Foods of the Chocó Andino” community will emphasize the use of little-known and generally discarded plants. The ultimate goal is to encourage the use of unconventional products to improve nutrition and avoid food waste.

To see the recording of the event, click here. Event organized by the Amawta Kawsay Convivium.

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