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Finding Organic Food in Ecuador

Posted in: Ecuador Food, Living in Ecuador

ecuador organic foodA reader recently asked about finding organic food in Ecuador.

“My wife and I and our 2 year old son are considering a move to either Cuenca or Antigua, Guatemala. One thing that is very important to us is the availability of organic food. We were excited to find that Cuenca had a market called the Coopera that sold mostly organic food at good prices. Upon further research the market appears to be shut down. Can you verify if the Coopera market is shut down? Are there still good options for getting organic food?”

That’s a great question. In this post I’ll share what I know – and I hope that you’ll do the same in the comments below.

A related topic is GMO in Ecuador where we have an active discussion as well.

Organic Food in Ecuador?

I’ve read on other expat blogs and forums the idea that all food in Ecuador is organic. A few people have stated that Ecuador can’t afford chemicals (pesticides and herbicides) so they grow everything organically.

This is (obviously) unfair and untrue. We have seen many growers – large and small – spraying their crops with backpack sprayers. The chemical has a unique smell – one I remember well from growing up in the agricultural focused Annapolis Valley (Nova Scotia). From a business perspective, it makes sense to use chemicals to ensure a good crop.

I don’t know that any meat (chicken, pork or beef) exists that hasn’t had vaccinations and other shots. Some livestock here is grass fed – some chickens only eat bugs and corn. But the majority eat only “balanceado” – a manufactured chicken feed with added vitamins and chemicals. While everyone prefers free-range, almost everyone uses this for healthy animals.

How can you be sure if it is organic?

Food Labeling in Ecuador

The laws in Ecuador are very similar to what we were used to in Canada. What appears to be different is the enforcement.

Some products at the grocery store don’t even list ingredients (snacks, sauces, etc). Others are printed as 100% pure (like honey) when they aren’t. It seems to be a fairly uncontrolled sector.

There was a brand of honey that we regularly bought and it was fine. It seemed to be pure – it was Eucalyptus flavor – amazing! But then the consistency suddenly changed. Instead of being slightly sticky it was like glue – like corn syrup. I have a significant allergy to corn – so when I ate it and got very sick – it wasn’t hard to determine that corn had been added. It has been almost a year since I have had honey – I am afraid to experiment with the other brands. I don’t feel that I can trust the labels.

ecuador organic food

3 Ways to Ensure That Your Food is Organic

I think that there are three ways to ensure organic food.

  1. Purchase packaged food that is exported (or imported): When a locally made product is exported, they need to comply with international rules. An example is Pacari Chocolate. This Ecuadorian made chocolate is sold primarily in the US and is certified USDA Organic. The other side of the coin is to purchase imported food from a region with enforced labeling rules.
  2. Know the grower: If you have a relationship with the grower, you can be confident that it is organic. Especially if you live in rural Ecuador and you can buy from your neighbor.
  3. Grow the food yourself: While this might not be an option for most expats, this is a good way to be sure that it has been grown chemical free.

What has been your experience with organic food in Ecuador? Please share your tips and stories below.

Also, what is the situation with the Coopera Market? Is it still open? Is it certified organic?

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is editor of GringosAbroad - one of the largest English language sites about Ecuador. Work with GringosAbroad. He is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands).

10 comments… add one
  • Michel Laforge Jun 26, 2016, 11:32 pm

    Hello
    I am surprised you did not mention at least two organic stores in Quito (MEGA ORGANIK and Wayruro) and two or three in Cumbaya (this is in the outskirts of Quito).
    We make our best efforts to bring real organic food to the consumers, and MEGA ORGANIK has delivery!

    • Bryan Haines Jun 27, 2016, 7:05 am

      Hey Michel – thanks for including your business.

      Do you work under specific government regulations or do you self-regulate – to ensure that your products are truly organic?

  • kevin cave Apr 30, 2015, 12:18 am

    intentional living wrote “you eat organic because thats what they are selling”
    oh my god.
    are they dum or are they lying?
    nothing is organic in ecuador.
    i lived here for 14 yaer’s
    like you say: unless you know the growers, and have been on their farm several times, one can’t trust it.
    i know many people coming here wiht wrong expectations, to find out the truth.

  • Edward Green Mar 7, 2015, 4:37 pm

    The old Coopers markets have been taken over by Gran Sol. Went to the one on 24 of May. Nice small store, where they assured us that their stuff was organic. Of course sometimes Ecuadorians will tell you what they think you want to hear, but their fruits and vegetables were very good. I don’t trust the USDA totally either.

  • Edward Green Mar 7, 2015, 4:33 pm

    The old Coopers markets have been taken over by Gran Sol. Went to the one on 24 of May. Nice small store, where they assured that their stuff was organic. Of course sometimes Ecuadorians will tell you what they think you want to hear, but their fruits and vegetables were very good.

  • Michael Fulgenzi Aug 3, 2014, 7:32 pm

    I am a lover of wines. Now living in Central America 7 years and moving to Ecuador end of this year. We get many great wines here from Chile and Argentina at great prices (About equal to USA prices) Are there affordable wines in Ecuador? ($5-$8 per bottle)?
    Thank you
    Michael

    • Bryan Haines Aug 4, 2014, 6:44 am

      Yes, there are lots of options in that range. Some are nice. Others are kind of like floor cleaner. 🙂 Some expats really like the boxed wine – it is even less expensive.

  • Erika Aug 3, 2014, 1:58 pm

    The fact that organic fruits and vegetables are difficult to get in EC, has been a big disappointment to me. As far as I know, only one apple, small and mushy, is grown locally. All other apples come from Chile which is known to use pesticides liberally. Most of the fruits are not labeled, so you have no way of knowing where they come from. I once purchased nectarines from a street vendor. When I got them home I saw the label, “grown in CA.” Having lived in CA, having seen how much pesticides were sprayed, I would not eat regularly grown fruits and vegetables. I am told strawberries are grown here. They are so perfect looking, you know that they have been sprayed. Sad!

  • Steve D Aug 2, 2014, 12:44 am

    RE: “There was a brand of honey that we regularly bought and it was fine. It seemed to be pure – it was Eucalyptus flavor – amazing!”

    I’m in Napa, California which is wine country. My brother in law is on the staff or a winery here. Some time back they had to remove about 20 Eucalyptus trees that were right next to one of their vineyards because the grapes tasted like Eucalyptus, no kidding. That could be the reason in that case also.

    I’ll be retiring in Cuenca in November!!! 🙂

  • Bob Gracie Aug 1, 2014, 7:16 pm

    Good information Brian. I suspected that to be the case, even though I had heard that most food is “organic” in Ecuador. I know from experience that when people are poor, they will often use chemicals they can barter, but often without clear instruction on how to use them “safely”

    I already grow much of our food organically here in New Brunswick for the reasons you mention. It will be interesting to learn new techniques in a tropical environment when we move to Ecuador.

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