Llayta is a dietary supplement that has been used by rural communities in Perú and northern Chile since pre-Columbian days. Llayta is the biomass of colonies of a Nostoc
cyanobacterium grown in wetlands of the Andean highlands, harvested, sun-dried and sold as an ingredient for human consumption. The biomass has a substantial content of essential amino acids (58% of total amino acids) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (33% total fatty acids). This ancestral practice is being lost and the causes were investigated by an ethnographic approach to register the social representations of Llayta, to document how this Andean feeding practice is perceived and how much the community knows about Llayta. Only 37% of the participants (mostly adults) have had a direct experience with Llayta; other participants (mostly children) did not have any knowledge about it. These social responses reflect anthropological and cultural tensions associated with a lack of knowledge on Andean algae, sites where to find Llayta, where it is commercialized, how it is cooked and on its nutritional benefits. The loss of this ancestral feeding practice, mostly in northern Chile, is probably associated with cultural changes, migration of the rural communities, and very limited access to the available information. We propose that Llayta consumption can be revitalized by developing appropriate educational strategies and investigating potential new food derivatives based on the biomass from the isolated Llayta cyanobacterium.
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