The Peninsula’s bounty is packed with nutrition. Here are some of its best, in no particular order. Provecho!
Corn, or maize as it’s called here, was first domesticated in Mesoamerica at least 6,000 years ago. According to Maya myth, mankind itself is made up of this ubiquitous cereal grain which, thanks to a process called nixtamalization, continues to be the primary source of nutrition not just for Mexico and Central America but for much of the world.
Though Hass avocados are by far the most popular variety of this delicious fruit, the aguacate Yucateco has many advantages, such as its considerably larger size and longer shelf life. Though more watery and sweet, they offer many of the same benefits as their more cosmopolitan cousin and are indispensable among locals when it comes to preparing dishes such as frijol con puerco.
Yucatecan pumpkins (or calabaza) have been a quintessential staple in the region for thousands of years. Aside from being delicious, calabaza contains high levels of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, iron, and folate — all of which strengthen the immune system. Their seeds are also used to prepare a wide variety of popular dishes and dips, including papadzules and sikil pak.
For thousands of years, the Maya have enjoyed brothy cacao beverages and even used its seeds as currency. Today, chocolate — cacao’s most beloved product — is produced artisanally in Yucatán. Antioxidants in dark chocolate have been proven to lower blood pressure and increase blood circulation to the heart.
Considered among the best in the world, Melipona — the Peninsula’s honey — is produced by the industrious Melipona beecheii bee, also known as Xunáan Kaab, which by the way, is also extremely unusual for its lack of a stinger. Melipona honey also contains high levels of antioxidants and is excellent for treating burns. Because Melipona bee colonies produce only
three or four liters of honey a year, their yield costs considerably more than other varieties. But is well worth the price.
Also known as Maya spinach or tree spinach, chaya is a shrub widely used to treat diabetes and kidney failure, but it is also a popular ingredient in soups. It’s also added to omelets and tamales and mixed with rice and beans. When harvesting chaya leaves, it is considered important to first “ask the plant for permission” to avoid being pricked by its tiny thorns.