Lato or Gamay in Tausug, is a delicious seaweed. It is used in ocean-fresh ensalada or salads by coastal communities up and down the Philippines. In fact, these tiny green pearls of the sea have long been used by Filipinos and other Pacific communities for centuries 1, 2!
Lato is known for being rich in nutrients. A study made at De La Salle University found that among selected seaweed species, Lato had among the highest levels of Omega-3 fatty acids 3. Omega-3 helps in lowering cholesterol and the risk of heart disease 4!
Another study in Thailand found that Lato is also rich in calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, which all contribute to strong bones and other needed functions of the body 5. The scientific name of Lato is Caulerpa lentillifera, but may also refer to other Caulerpa species too.
A delicious lato recipe common among Bisaya communities is a simple concoction of lato, onions, tomatoes, and sukang tuba (a local vinegar derived from coconut wine). Kalamansi is sometimes substituted for vinegar, or combined with it, for a delicious beach-side complement to sinugbang isda or grilled fish. Other home and restaurant chefs serve lato with bagoong or fermented shrimp paste.
But it is the Sama Dilaut who might have been the earliest cultivators and traders of lato and other seaweed delicacies in the Visayas and Mindanao 1. They are also known as Badjao, which unfortunately has been used as a derogatory term by other Filipinos. Today, they and many other communities in the Philippines still farm Lato and other seaweed as a source of livelihood.
Seaweed farming has grown so much that in Tawi-Tawi an annual festival is celebrated, called the Agal-Agal festival. Even Filipino migration in Tawi-Tawi has been greatly impacted by seaweed farming, with women making up most of those selling the product on some islands in the southern province 1.
As mentioned earlier, Lato has had a long history of being enjoyed by Asian and Pacific island communities. In Japan for example, Lato is called “umi-budo” or “sea grapes” in Japanese 6. The Japanese also have a name for the sensation when one bites into Lato, this is called “puchi-puchi.” 7 But you’re probably most familiar with another seaweed used in Japan, and all over the world: nori. It is used in sushi, ramen, and other popular dishes.
Did you know there is a name for the study of algae and their relationships with humans? It is called ethnophycology 1. And one of the best ways to study the relationship between Lato and people is at the public market.
Richard V. Dumilag writes the following in one study about edible seaweeds:
“Public markets are places where buying and selling take place between resident consumers and traders. More than points of a product exchange, these areas are becoming key nexuses for knowledge generation… Scientists ferret out various resources sold from local markets for food development, drug discovery….” 1
The science of Lato is also just as fascinating! Did you know that Lato are actually made up of one single cell? Learn about this, and more, at Philippine Wildlife Art!
The next time you are on a beach, visit the nearby public market and ask around for local seaweed like Lato. It is good for your health, and you support local seaweed farmers too.
- R. Dumilag, 2019. Edible Seaweeds Sold in the Local Public Markets in Tawi-Tawi, Philippines. Philippine Journal of Science. http://philjournalsci.dost.gov.ph/images/pdf/pjs_pdf/vol148no4/edible_seaweeds_sold_in_the_public_markets_.pdf
- X. Chen, 2019. Advances in cultivation, wastewater treatment application, bioactive components of Caulerpa lentillifera and their biotechnological applications. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6329336/#!po=1.72414
- C. Hormigos et al., 2017. Analysis of the Fatty Acid Composition of C. lentillifera, C. racemosa, E. cottoni, and G. tenuistiptata using Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry. https://www.dlsu.edu.ph/wp-content/uploads/pdf/conferences/research-congress-proceedings/2017/FNH/FNH-I-001.pdf
- The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Harvard Health Publishing. Updated: December 11, 2019. Published: February, 2015. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good
- P. Ratana-arporn et al., 2006. Nutritional Evaluation of Tropical Green SeaweedsCaulerpa lentillifera and Ulva reticulata. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267256016_Nutritional_Evaluation_of_Tropical_Green_Seaweeds_Caulerpa_lentillifera_and_Ulva_reticulata
- A. Arimoto, 2019. A siphonous macroalgal genome suggests convergent functions of homeobox genes in algae and land plants. https://academic.oup.com/dnaresearch/article/26/2/183/5419551
- Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, 2019. Okinawan sea grapes reveal secrets of plant evolution. Phys.org. https://phys.org/news/2019-03-okinawan-sea-grapes-reveal-secrets.html