Orchid Snack Food

As the BBC reports, chikanda is a traditional food in parts of Zambia and Tanzania, made from the tubers of local orchids. These tubers look like little potatoes. They are cooked with peanuts and chilies into savory cakes resembling meatloaf, and called chikanda. Swedish botanist Sarina Veldman has been studying the DNA of tubers for sale in African markets, and has found over 80 different species. These include many different types of Disa, Habenaria, and Satyrium orchids. Unfortunately, increasing commercial demand and habitat loss are endangering these local orchids. As collectors go farther, neighboring countries are also losing many of their native terrestrial species. Veldman and other scientists are hoping that sustainable practices, like bringing the orchids into cultivation, will reduce pressures on wild plants. Some steps have already been taken, such as the creation of Kitulo National Park in Tanzania, which protects an area of rich botanical diversity known as the “Serengeti of Flowers.” Scientists and local peoples will need to work together to find more solutions to conserve these fascinating orchids and this popular snack food.

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