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How the seaweed in this Ilocano dish is fighting cancer

UST researchers have found solid evidence that says eating pukpuklo can prevent the spread of cancer

Photo by Andrew Buchanan / Unsplash

“Eat your greens,” parents always say. “They’ll make you grow big and strong.”

But maybe it’s time to specify, “Eat your seaweed. They’ll fight cancer for you.” And there’s evidence now to back that up.

In a study by University of Santos Tomas (UST) researchers presented at The Values of Philippine Flora and Fauna symposium by the Department of Science and Technology – National Research Council of the Philippines, it was found that the endemic seaweed species of the Codium genus known as “pukpuklo,” an ingredient in the popular Ilocano dish of the same name, carries cancer-fighting properties. To be specific, the sugars (polysaccharides) that form carbohydrates in pukpuklo can inhibit the growth of the enzymes responsible for moving metastasis (the spreading of cancer) along.

If that wasn’t enough, pukpuklo can also fight skin diseases, goiter, and the effects of aging. Healthy skin and faster healing are other properties of the seaweed native to Ilocos Norte, Aklan, Iloilo, Cagayan, and La Union provinces (amongst others).

Aside from being a boon to healthy eating, the seaweed is also being revered as a potential medicine to treat cancer. With its anti-cancer properties that prevent tumor growth, the fauna may soon be the center of future research endeavoring to develop low-cost cancer treatment drugs.

Often treated as a side dish, the iron-rich seaweed is in season from November to March during the less rainy months. When not under the microscope of UST researchers, pukpuklo can be found in Ilocano-style salads mixed with tomatoes, salt, shallots, calamansi, and even lemon. It can even be added to dishes as a topping or eaten with rice.

Pukpuklo is never cooked as the heat makes it shrink and lose its crunchy texture. Refrigerating is also discouraged as it causes it to lose its flavor. Seeing as it’s traditionally eaten raw, pukpuklo is a common summer snack that should only be rinsed thoroughly moments before consumption in order to retain its freshness and saltiness of the sea, redefining the concept of farm-to-table to sea-to-table.

The go-to snack for surfers and beach-goers in coastal towns, pukpuklo has been a staple Ilocano fish for decades and its health benefits are a testament to the organic greens surrounding us. It just goes to show that the best recipes (with the best benefits) make the most of the ingredients already within reach—a fact the Ilocanos knew long before anyone else.

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