Thanks to a global gastronomic push for sustainably sourced local ingredients, "piure" has become a star ingredient in some of Chile's highest gastronomic establishments.
At first sight, the piure (also known as he pyura chilensis) is not the most appetising seafood. While served all along the coast of Chile, its strong, iodine taste paired with its "ugly" appearance can be unappealing to consumers, who tend to prefer the softer flavour of mussels, clams, scallops and the beloved loco, a Chilean sea snail that's typically eaten with mayonnaise. However, as more chefs creatively incorporate it into dishes, piure could very well become the next hero of Chilean cuisine.
Found on the coasts of Peru and Chile, piure is a tunicate (also known as a sea-squirt) – a spineless marine animal that feeds by sucking in water through one syphon and expelling through the other – that looks like something out of this world. Appearing as a solid rocklike form, each chunk is made up of dozens of piures lumped together, all peppered with what resembles lumpy warts and strands of hair (algae).
In the noisy fishing port of Valparaiso, on the coast of central Chile, piure is purchased in either its natural "rock" shape, or as ready-to-eat cleaned "udders". One customer asked for piure in the rock form and pointed to his selection: as the vendor lifted it onto the scales, it expelled seawater from miniature holes that punctuated the surface.
While different types of piure exist globally, only the pyura chilensis species is edible, explained Dr Pilar Haye, Deputy Director of the Millennium Institute in Coastal Socio-Ecology (Secos).