Llasca (Cladophora crispata), is a fresh water algae found in streams and water basins in the Andean region.
In the Inca religion and astronomy it was associated with a female god who represented the planet Venus and so was also linked to beauty with the name Chaska. This Inca god was a woman with an amazing appearance, long, wet and ruffled hair. The Inca civilisation believed that she was able to create a rainstorm by shaking her locks. Chaska was highly venerated and there was even a celebration in her name to invoke the start of the rains. During this festival, the Ilaska algae reaches its maximum size and with its appearance similar to a woman’s hair is considered the manifestation of the god. In fact the name Ilaska means ""hair of a sensual woman"".
In the region of Lake Titicaca, at a very high altitude, the collection of this algae is very important for the inhabitants. Along with fishing and agriculture, the harvest of Ilasca is a precious economic asset and alimentary resource.
This algae is mainly found in the shallow depths of the rocky sea floor. It is collected by fishermen who sell it fresh or dried in the local markets.
In local cuisine Ilasca is used as an ingredient in soups, salads, sauces and in drinks.
In the Capachica Peninsula it is used in a sauce called leche de Ilaska.
The algae is first rinsed in cold water. It is then toasted and boiled in fresh cow’s milk until it forms a creamy substance. The sauce is served with boiled potatoes or fresh cheese.
In popular medicine this sauce is used to treat skin disorders.
The presence of the algae in Lake Titicaca has reduced in recent years because of the uncontrolled harvest, climate change and pollution that is destroying its habitat. There are now acquaculture projects that aim to repopulate the species for commercial purposes.