Peru: Chicken-Blood Cookbook Stamps Out Anaemia

Liz Llanto was among over 1,000 women in Nuevo Pachucatec who took part in WFP's 2004 anti-anaemia drive. Now, she hopes her recipe for spinach roles with ham and sangrecita will help other women protect their children from iron deficiency. Copyright:WFP/Peru

Traditional Peruvian cooking has turned out a secret weapon in the fight against anaemia: chicken blood. High in iron and low on cost, “sangrecita” is the key ingredient of many of Peru’s favourite dishes. WFP has published over 40 in an anti-anaemia cookbook with recipes from local mothers and world renowned chefs.

LIMA – The idea of eating sangrecita – a tangy chicken-blood pudding – might not pique your appetite at first, but Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino says a taste is sure to change your mind. “It’s what gives some of our most delicious foods their flavour. We’ve been preparing it for centuries,” he says.

One of Peru’s most celebrated chefs, Schiaffino has found a score of different uses for sangrecita, from entrees to desserts, but says his favourite is as a solution to the endemic levels of anaemia among Peruvian children.

Simple and nutritious

"Tamalitos morenos", a starchy corn meal cooked in sangrecita is just one example of the cheap and simple recipes contained in the cookbook. The artful presentation above is courtesy of Chef Schiaffino, but the original recipe is by Rosa Socola Vargas, a mother from Nuevo Pachacutec.

A cheap and tasty cure

Caused by prolonged iron deficiency, anaemia is a serious form of malnutrition with symptoms that range from lack of energy to heart palpitations, shortness of breath and infections. While easily treatable among adults, it can have life-long consequences for children including impaired mental development and physical stunting.

Over one in two children in Peru is anaemic with rates well over 70 percent in some of the worst affected areas. The town of Nuevo Pachacutec, on the outskirts of Lima, used to be one of them.

Then, in 2004, WFP launched a joint project with the Ministry of Development and the NGO Alternativa to promote iron-rich foods like sangrecita among local households. In just three years, rates of iron deficiency among the town’s children plummeted from 70 percent to 18 percent.

Following the project’s success, WFP brought over 1,000 mothers from the community together with Chefs Schiaffino and Rafael Osterling to share their anaemia-fighting specialities with the rest of Peru.

An anti-anaemia cookbook

The collaborative effort produced over 40 recipes, all of them containing sangrecita, that were published this month in a sleek, new cookbook which WFP is working to distribute in some of the poorest areas in the country.

Hot peppers stuffed with sangrecita, fried sangrecita dumplings and rice and potates in sangrecita-sauce are just a few of the easy-to-make recipes that could spare millions of Peruvian children from suffering the permanent effects of anaemia.

“These recipes reflect the tremendous creativity of Peruvian mothers,” said WFP Representative Beatriz Yermenos at the book’s launch this month in Lima. “By using an economical food with a high nutritional value, like sangrecita, they can avert the long-term consequences of iron deficiency in their children.”

Pachacutec mother Liz Llanto said that since the iron drive there kicked off in 2004, she and her neighbours had perfected their sangrecita-cooking skills with a series of contests and cook-offs that yielded a number of the recipes published in the cookbook.

“It’s almost like a local speciality now. We’ve put a lot of effort into learning how to prepare and we’re very proud of how skilled we’ve become,” she said.