What is chukum, and why has it become so popular in Mexico?

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The Mérida architecture firm Reyes Ríos + Larraín made its name, expanding the use of chukum inside and out. Photo: Courtesy

Chukum is an ancient stucco technique that fits in with modern design trends while highlighting nature and simplicity.

The material comes from chukum trees, which are native to the Yucatán Peninsula. They are characterized by a thorny bark that is resin-rich in tannins, giving it a reddish hue similar to wine. More recently, synthetic chukum can be found in a can, like paint.

It’s no wonder that Chukum has been widely adopted in Mexican architecture, especially in the southeast of the country.

Courtesy: Chichén Pasta de Chukum

The use of the mixture, a beige-colored paste, has its origins in the Mayan culture, which used it to color their surfaces and murals.

Chukum also absolves the owner of having to choose paint colors or worry about it chipping and bubbling. It is there to stay.

In the 19th century (during the henequen boom in Yucatán), the Chukum technique was implemented on the surfaces of hacienda ponds.

Being practical, economical, and aesthetically pleasing, it has become the flagship of many designers and builders, such as Joaquín Ruiz Esparza of Chichén Pasta de Chukum.

They began working with chukum more than a decade ago.

“I was working on a pool proposal, and a construction worker suggested using chukum instead of Venetian plaster. We decided to give it a try and loved the result,” says Ruiz Esparza, comparing the finish to a more commonly known product also known for its slightly translucent appearance.

They have built close to 100 pools. Joaquín points out that although swimming pools are common, the finish can be used on all kinds of surfaces, including interior and exterior walls, floors and ceilings. In the past, it was used mainly to coat the inside of cisterns or open-air water tanks.

Chukum, a traditional plaster in Yucatán, offset exposed stone in Casa Maca. Photo: Contributed

In addition to having a minimalist and elegant appearance, it resists harsh weather and the passing of time. Chukum Chichén sells a completely natural mixture composed of resin, limestone powder, and adhesive.

“There are three varieties of chukum trees in the Yucatan region, and each bark gives a different tone. But the color does not depend on the bark, but on the extra fine powder of the limestone,” Ruiz Esparza says.

The adoption of chukum has not been limited to the Yucatecán Peninsula. Chukum Chichén exports to all parts of the country, such as Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Los Cabos and even northern states like Tampico.

Chukum trees are exclusively endemic to the Yucatán state, the only region where they grow.

It’s also less expensive than some more commonly known alternatives.

“It has a cost of one-third compared to Venetian in terms of material and installation. In terms of resistance, Chukum can last up to 10 times longer,” says Ruiz Esparza.

Proof of this can be found in his first pool.

“Where it all began, the pool in a corner home in Caucel is flawless nine years later.”

Veronica Garibay
Veronica Garibayhttp://yucatanmagazine.com
Verónica Garibay Saldaña is a Mexican columnist, communications major, and poetry enthusiast. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
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