Recipes to the rescue

Recipes to the rescue

Bioversity International partners with chefs, nutritionist, local communities and researchers to leverage the low-cost, highly nutritious and drought-tolerant chaya and tepary bean in Guatemala. 

Half of the population of Guatemala is engaged in agriculture. Still, the population faces a high degree of food insecurity accompanied by chronic malnutrition. A major factor of this is climate change as it exacerbates the ineffective production of key staple grains, such as black beans and maize.

The good news is that there are low-cost, highly nutritious and drought-tolerant crops in Guatemala that are yet to be leveraged. One of these crops is chaya, a native leafy vegetable that is an economical source of food of high nutritional value. Another interesting one is the tepary bean, capable of producing extraordinary yields under stress conditions, under which the black bean is completely unproductive. The traits in these crops can help address some of the climate change related problems that affect food security, and the Bioversity International-IFAD initiative “Linking Agrobiodiversity Value Chains, Climate Adaptation and Nutrition: Empowering the Poor to Manage Risks” is thus committed to promoting the production and consumption of these crops in their home country of Guatemala.

Scientists from Bioversity International discovered that in Guatemala chaya consumption is minimal and continuously decreasing due to the loss of knowledge of ancestral foods. This is especially the case among traditional Mayan groups who by now only use a handful of recipes, which are not appreciated by the younger generations. There is also resistance in consuming a crop wrongly perceived by many as food of the poor.

Thus, in order to revalue the cultural, nutritional and culinary identity of chaya, and hence increase its consumption, the project identified the need to develop new, creative and likeable recipes. To that end, two chaya recipe books were made taking into consideration local practices and culinary specificities that are pleasing to the local palate. The recipes are easy to follow and incorporate colorful pictures. The recipes also keep in mind children’s preferences, and include foods like chaya popsicles, porridge and rice pudding.

One of the two books is specifically intended for rural consumers, using nutritionist recommendations. Five hundred of these recipe books were distributed to key stakeholders; among them extension agents from the Ministry of Agriculture who are using them to promote chaya’s consumption. Additionally, using the recipe books, the initiative introduced chaya to the school feeding programme implemented in the project site. The second chaya recipe book was made for urban consumers, to increase consumer awareness about chaya and its use in well-known dishes such as pizza and smoothies.      

Besides the recipe books, another important aspect of the initiative was to promote chaya consumption through the gastronomy sector. This activity focused on revaluing Mayan tradition and culture so that chaya and other native crops can regain their status from being seen as merely poor people´s food to a food that is nutritious and part of Guatemala´s tradition and a source of people’s pride.Bioversity International advocated to chefs, restaurants, culinary schools, consumers and influencers (key people in the gastronomy sector) about the importance and potential of chaya to awaken their interest in this native plant. The response was very positive, given that by January 2019, two well-known restaurants, ranked as the best in Guatemala, included chaya in their menus. Others are following suit and starting to use chaya at social events and gastronomy tours.    

To obtain similar results with the tepary bean, it was important to conduct tasting panels to evaluate their culinary characteristics under local conditions and determine their acceptability by consumers. The results were encouraging because consumers enjoyed the taste, even though its flavor is sweet and different from other local beans. To promote its consumption further, the project staff, jointly with local women from the study site, developed a recipe book where recipes using local Guatemalan beans were adapted to be prepared with tepary beans.

These activities are a vital reminder of the importance of working with an interdisciplinary group of actors – chefs, nutritionist, local communities and researchers – who can help promote and address the many multi-faceted and inter-linked challenges encountered when promoting crops like chaya and tepary beans. It is an effective way of simultaneously promoting culture, gastronomy, ancestral and scientific knowledge, our biodiversity, our food, our health.

Recipe books available in Spanish:


This research was carried out in the framework of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) project “Linking Agro-biodiversity Value Chains Climate Adaptation and Nutrition: Empowering the Poor to Manage Risk” and linked to the CGIAR Research Programmes on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which are supported by CGIAR Trust Fund Donors.