In Belize’s idyllic beach town of Placencia, the buzz of blenders has become something of a soundtrack. The once-quiet fishing village, which sits on the point of a 26km-long southern peninsula flanked by the Caribbean Ocean and a wildlife-rich lagoon, is often described by locals as “the caye you can drive to” because of its laid-back atmosphere. When temperatures soar, locals and travellers head to gaily painted beach bars that not only serve cold daiquiris and piña coladas but also a Placencia speciality: the seaweed shake.
Rather than tasting of salty nori, the creamy beverage is reminiscent of eggnog, thanks to the addition of freshly grated nutmeg, milk, sugar, vanilla and – depending on who’s behind the bar – a generous shot of rum. Its thick viscosity, however, can be credited to one particular variety of mineral-packed edible seaweed (Eucheuma isiforme) that has long been harvested along the Belizean coast.
Today, Placencia has become famous for its influx of sustainable seaweed farming initiatives, which in turn, are creating new carbon sinks and helping to restore the region’s diverse marine life. And you don’t have to go far to find the treasured greens. Stroll along the pedestrian-only Placencia Sidewalk and you’ll find a number of restaurants serving seaweed shakes. Strike up a conversation with a local and you’ll quickly see the beverage’s ties to not just the town’s heritage, but also to its ecological and economic future.
“People have been making seaweed drinks in Belize for generations,” said Lyra Spang, a Placencia-based culinary anthropologist and founder of Taste Belize Food & Culture Tours. “Placencia is particularly known for seaweed because the Placencia Producers Cooperative, the villages fishing co-op, was the first entity in Belize to attempt cultivation of the seaweed.”