Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | January 31, 2012

Famous Peruvian chef uses coca leaves in recipes

The Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio is the Latin American culinary world’s equivalent of Gordon Ramsey, Mario Batali or Jamie Oliver. His latest restaurant, La Mar Cebicheria, at New York’s 11 Madison Avenue in the Credit Suisse building, serves high-end cebiche, ají de gallina, causa, and most other staples of Peruvian food.

For years, Chef Acurio has been experimenting with using coca leaves in his recipes. Coca leaves are legal as a flavoring agent as long as alkaloids, the basis of cocaine, are removed. That’s how it’s allegedly used in Coca-Cola’s secret recipe.

Coca leaves were used medicinally in pre-Inca times to treat tooth pain, head-aches, rheumatism, nausea, altitude sickness, and even the agony of child birth. It is still widely consumed in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. It has a bitter taste and turns the teeth green. It aids the body to absorb oxygen.

Acurio said, “It’s a nutritious leaf with a rich flavor that can be used to season shrimp, crabs, shellfish – almost anything you can cook with. It’s something that could be served in the best restaurants and help the poorest farmers.”

Acurio has devised Coca Sour, a derivative of the drink Pisco Sour.

Other innovative uses for coca leaves are: tossing them as a salad, sprinkling them over pizza, or complimenting a tortilla.

In recent years, acai, goji berries, mesquite, and maca line the shelves of Wholefoods alongside flax seed oil and aloe vera. Can you imagine coca leaves on display at health food stores?

A thought: If it aids the body to absorb oxygen, would coca leaves not be an excellent addition to an all natural miracle face cream? Would it be sold on late-night TV for $19.99? Would Suzanne Somers be its spokesperson?

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