Nov 232016
 

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers!

Try the following links to learn more about Mexico’s contributions to Thanksgiving. For starters, what about the idea that Thanksgiving originated in Mexico, not in the USA!

thanksgiving-cartoon

That idea may be slightly controversial, but most celebrations of Thanksgiving certainly have some close ties to Mexico since they are likely to include one or more of the following ingredients:

These items, and many other food items that originate in Mexico, have come to play an important role, not only for American Thanksgiving celebrations, but also for many of the world’s finest cuisines.

¡Buen provecho! ~ Happy Thanksgiving!

Looking for a fun way to learn more about Mexican history and culture?

Tony Burton’s latest book, Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique explores some of the reasons why Mexico is such an extraordinarily diverse and interesting nation. The book’s 30 short chapters range from the mysteries of Mexican food, Aztec farming and Mayan pyramids to mythical cities, aerial warfare, art, music, local sayings and the true origins of Mexico’s national symbols.  – “a suitable gift for the novice flying to Mexico for vacation, while at the same time a cherished companion for the expat already comfortably at home there.” – Dr Michael Hogan, Author of Abraham Lincoln and Mexico.

 Posted by at 3:52 am  Tagged with:
Mar 282016
 

In 2014 there were 285 tortillerias in Chilpancingo, the capital of the state of Guerrero, when the troubles with the drug cartels really started. Now only 185 remain open as a result of drug gangs attacking the tortilla shops and workers, kidnapping owners and forcing others out of business out of fear of the violence.

Chilpancingo, with a population of over 280,000, is situated in the mountains 105 km north-east of Acapulco. As elsewhere, the tortilla shops are concentrated in the poorer barrios where local criminal gangs also tend to be located. Tortillas are sold from small shops with a view to the street, or are delivered door-to-door by young men on motor cycles.

The drug cartels in Chilpancingo, such as Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos, realized that by controlling the business owners and the employees of tortillerias, they would have a wide-spread and well-placed network of drug distribution points, lookouts and street dealers, operating under the guise of these many small legitimate businesses.

tortilleria

The take-over began in 2014 with the kidnapping of shop owners and workers, often involving a week’s captivity in a secure house, and demands for ransom ranging from 30,000 pesos (US$2100), up to 2 million pesos (US$140,000 for owners of multiple tortillerias.) After release, the victims were forced to co-operate with the cartel’s drug distribution and look-out system, under threat of business closure. The leader of the Chilpancingo tortilla sellers, Abdon Abel Hernandez has been threatened numerous times, kidnapped once, and his family had to borrow a million pesos to secure his release. He says about 35% of the local tortilla industry has shut down since 2014 out of fear.

The regional president of Corpamex (Mexican Confederation of Business Owners) Adrian Alarcon says he also lives with the fear of death for trying to defend his threatened union membership. “Today the tortilla industry is kidnapped by them (criminal groups) just like what happened with public transport when they forced taxi drivers and bus drivers to become the hands and eyes of the narco. The industry is completely infiltrated. The money that comes from the tortillas is used to buy weapons. We are financing them”.

January 2016 march by owners of tortillerias asking for state government help

January 2016 march by owners of tortillerias asking for state government help

He also stated that 36 businessmen were kidnapped and tortured in the central region of Guerrero in the first two months of 2016, with most of the victims being associated with the tortilla industry. “It wasn’t a coincidence”, he said, “that a national survey named Chilpancingo as the country’s worst city to live in. Crime has put an end to everything: investments, jobs, and the desire to make a family here. But if you think the situation here is in a critical state, you should go to Acapulco. Here, the tortilleros are kidnapped, but there they are being killed.” According to Arcadio Castro, leader of the Tortilla Association of Guerrero, 20 tortilla workers lost their lives in 2015 in clashes with organized crime.

The previous chief of police of Acapulco was dismissed after he failed to pass control examinations, known as trust tests, designed to identify those with possible links to organized crime. His replacement expects some 700 of his current force of 1901 municipal police will also fail their next control exams. Given his current budget, he has no hope of renovating his police force with younger, healthier, law-abiding officers. The assault on the tortilla industry is generally not felt in the tourist areas of the city.

In 2010 UNESCO included the traditional Mexican cuisine of Michoacán in its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in large part based on the multiple uses and cultural centrality of corn in Mexican traditional cooking. This decision was very publicly celebrated by the tortilla industry. Unhappily, today, the tortillerias of Guerrero are struggling to survive the extortion rackets of the local drug cartels.

Main source:

Oscar Balderas. Drug Cartels Are Taking Over the Tortilla Business in Mexico. VICE News, , 16 March 2016; article re-published in Business Insider.

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Mexican products with denomination of origin status

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Oct 012015
 

Denomination of origin status (aka designation of origin, appellation of origin) has been awarded over the years to numerous Mexican products (see image). The status provides some legal protection to the use of the name and sets geographic limits on the areas where the items can be produced. The general declarations of denominations of origin are issued by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property and published in the official federal broadsheet Diario Oficial de la Federación (DOF).

mexico-denomiation-of-origin-poster

Three products are related to art and handicrafts:

  • Olinalá (laquer work from Olinalá in the state of Guerrero)
  • Talavera ceramics
  • Amber from Chiapas

Most, however, are related to food and drink:

  • Tequila (Jalisco, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Michoacán and Guanajuato);
  • Mezcal (Guerrero, Oaxaca, Durango, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí);
  • Bacanora (Sonora);
  • Coffee from Veracruz (Veracruz);
  • Sotol (Chihuahua, Coahuila y Durango);
  • Coffee from Chiapas (Chiapas)
  • Charanda (Michoacán);
  • Mango Ataulfo from the Soconusco region (Chiapas);
  • Vanilla from Papantla (Veracruz)
  • Chile habanero (Yucatán Peninsula)
  • Rice from Morelos

Perhaps, therefore, it is not surprising that Mexican cuisine has been acclaimed as one of the most varied in the world. In 2010, the traditional Mexican cuisine of Michoacán was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Mexican cuisine was up for more international awards this week when 10 of the country’s restaurants made the list of the top 50 in Latin America.

The World’s 50 Best organization named eight restaurants in Mexico City and one each from Nuevo León and the State of México among the 50 best in Latin America. Three of them — Quintonil which placed sixth, Pujol ninth and Biko 10thalso made the list of the world’s top 50 this year.

They were followed by the only restaurants outside the Federal District: Pangea in Monterrey, Nuevo León, which placed 13th, and Amaranta in Toluca which was 22nd.

The other winners were Sud 777 (27th), Máximo Bistrot (41), Rosetta (44), Nicos (47) and Dulce Patria (49).

Other aspects of Mexican life and culture on the UNESCO list include the Indigenous Festivity dedicated to the Dead (added in 2003); Places of memory and living traditions of the Otomí-Chichimecas people of Tolimán: the Peña de Bernal (2009); the Ritual ceremony of the Voladores in Veracruz (2009); Parachicos in the January fiesta in Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas (2010); Pirekua, the traditional song of the Purépecha, Michoacán (2010); and mariachi music (2011).

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Christmas in Mexico, according to one news agency

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Jan 252015
 

According to its website, “The QMI Agency is French and English Canada’s leading news reference for daily, intermittent and event-driven needs. Its offering most notably includes texts, images, videos and other interactive content.”

QMI’s Facebook page promotes its graphics department which “creates infographics for use throughout our chain” and boasts that “QMI Agency provides reliable, complete and up-to-the-minute news coverage over a full range of platforms.” And, indeed, many of the infographics shown on its Facebook page are very well designed, interesting, colorful and informative.

QMI-Christmas

Infographic from Niagara Advance newspaper for 25 December 2014

However, this infographic attributed to the QMI Agency, published in the Niagara Advance newspaper for 25 December 2014 (which Geo-Mexico happened to see while admiring Niagara Falls) was far less convincing. Entitled “Christmas around the world”, this particular infographic  took a “look at various traditions and customs”, and opened with a description intended to summarize Christmas in Mexico:

Mexico: Christmas dinner consists of oxtail soup with beans and hot chili, as well as roasted turkey and vegetables. Instead of receiving their gifts on Christmas Day, they get presents on Jan. 5, the eve of Twelfth Night.”

Hmm… really? As we have noted many times on Geo-Mexico, Mexican cuisine varies regionally. Even so, if any reader knows where “oxtail soup with beans and hot chili, as well as roasted turkey and vegetables” is the typical menu for Christmas, please let us know, to add to our list of regional delights.

As for presents being received on “Jan. 5, the eve of Twelfth Night”, err… no. The Mexican tradition of gifts on Three Kings Day involves Mexican children stuffing shoes (or a  box) with straw, and leaving them outside their bedroom door on the night of 5 January, in anticipation of finding gifts (new toys) the following morning, the morning of 6 January, Three Kings Day.

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Eat here to believe it! The second phase of Mexico’s “Live It To Believe It!” tourism campaign

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Nov 212014
 

Mexico’s tourism officials have unveiled the second phase of their “Live It To Believe It!” campaign. The first phase focused on some relatively unusual destinations and sights in Mexico. The second phase is based on the nation’s extraordinarily varied gastronomy. “Eat Here to Believe It!” is our suggested shorthand.

Mexican cuisine has taken the world by storm in recent years and Mexico is rapidly becoming one of the best destinations in Latin America for food-related travel. Promotional videos (sadly, no longer available on Youtube) highlight how regional variations in cuisine across Mexico mean that a vacation in Mexico can be like visiting several different countries in a single trip.

In addition to items such as tequila and mescal enjoying international protection and recognition via their denomination-of-origin status, in 2010 UNESCO added the indigenous regional cuisine of Michoacán to its “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” list.

Quoting from the UNESCO site:

Traditional Mexican cuisine is a comprehensive cultural model comprising farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners. It is made possible by collective participation in the entire traditional food chain: from planting and harvesting to cooking and eating. The basis of the system is founded on corn, beans and chili; unique farming methods such as milpas (rotating swidden fields of corn and other crops) and chinampas (man-made farming islets in lake areas); cooking processes such as nixtamalization (lime-hulling maize, which increases its nutritional value); and singular utensils including grinding stones and stone mortars.

Native ingredients such as varieties of tomatoes, squashes, avocados, cocoa and vanilla augment the basic staples. Mexican cuisine is elaborate and symbol-laden, with everyday tortillas and tamales, both made of corn, forming an integral part of Day of the Dead offerings.

Collectives of female cooks and other practitioners devoted to raising crops and traditional cuisine are found in the State of Michoacán and across Mexico. Their knowledge and techniques express community identity, reinforce social bonds, and build stronger local, regional and national identities. Those efforts in Michoacán also underline the importance of traditional cuisine as a means of sustainable development.

For more about Mexican cuisine, visit the amazing award-winning blog Mexico Cooks! and also browse the huge selection of recipes, articles and tips about all aspects of Mexican food and cooking in the “Cuisine” section of MexConnect.

¡Buen provecho!

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Diana Kennedy and regional cuisines in Mexico

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Aug 302014
 

Diana Kennedy is the world’s foremost authority on regional Mexican cuisines. Born in the UK, she moved to Mexico in 1957 with her husband, Paul Kennedy, a New York Times correspondent. Over the next half a century, Kennedy traveled the length and breadth of Mexico, collecting stories, cooking techniques and recipes, and writing about regional cuisines from all over the country.

kennedy-cuisines-of-mexicoHer first cookbook The Cuisines of Mexico was published in 1972 and quickly became a classic. She has written several other books about Mexican cuisine, including

Now in her nineties, Kennedy continues to live in an eco-friendly house in s small village near the city of Zitácuaro in the western Mexico state of Michoacán. The Mexican government awarded her the Aztec Eagle, Mexico’s highest award for non-Mexicans, for her truly outstanding contribution to the country.

In this recent BBC radio podcast, Diana Kennedy is interviewed about her lifetime’s work, including the thousands of hours spent driving along dusty dirt tracks in her pick up truck in search of yet another unrecorded gem of Mexican cuisine.

Her travels often took her to indigenous villages, way off the beaten track, where she would study how and what the local people cooked, discovering along the way, all kinds of things never previously written about.

Podcast (mp3 file) of BBC Radio 4 Food Programme about Diana Kennedy :

 

The initial leads for the next trip often came from the maids of friends in Mexico City, maids who were prepared to share their family recipe secrets with her.

Kennedy documented varieties of corn and beans that are rapidly disappearing, as are the small family farms where they were grown. In most locations, she would start by exploring the local market. Marveling over the incredible fresh produce she encountered wherever she traveled, she recorded every detail; sadly, some of these markets have long since disappeared.

The “Mexican miracle” of the 1960s and 1970s, with its growing economic prosperity brought a tide of imported foods into Mexico. These reached deep into the countryside. In many places, traditional foods were forgotten, replaced by imported items such as wheat bread and pork chops.

Dietary changes have continued to plague Mexico, leading to a dramatic increase in obesity. Note, though, that despite the claims made on this BBC program, Mexico does not yet lead the world in obesity – though it is the fourth most obese country in the world (excluding small island states). Clearly, BBC researchers should read Geo-Mexico more often.

Kennedy’s 1972 book, The Cuisines of Mexico was a ground-breaking look at the regional world of food in Mexico. UNAM, Mexico’s National University, is keeping Kennedy’s work alive by making digital copies of all her notebooks, some of which date back to the 1950s.

For more about Mexican cuisine, visit the amazing award-winning blog Mexico Cooks! and also browse the huge selection of recipes, articles and tips about all aspects of Mexican food and cooking in the “Cuisine” section of MexConnect. ¡Buen provecho!

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The regional geography of tacos

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Jun 072014
 

A taco is a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around other edible ingredients, and designed to be eaten by hand – the indigenous Mexican equivalent of a sandwich. Tacos are extremely versatile and often accompanied by garnishes such as tomatoes, onions, lettuce, radishes, and avocado or guacamole, topped with salsa and cilantro.

Who would have thought that the humble taco was worth its own encyclopaedia? This particular encyclopaedia includes a fascinating graphic – a map (see graphic) summarizing the different regional varieties of taco commonly found in different parts of the country.

The accompanying terminology used to describe all these tacos is mind-blowing, but a small sampling will give you the idea:

Regional varieties of Mexican tacos

Regional varieties of Mexican tacos. Credit: La tacopedia. Enciclopedia del taco (Spanish Edition) . Click to enlarge.

The map is by no means an exhaustive list, but does include examples of taco specialties for every state.

The two states occupying the Baja California Peninsula both have seafood-based tacos:

  • Baja California – tacos de langosta con frijoles (lobster and beans tacos)
  • Baja California Sur – tacos de marlin ahumado (smoked marlin tacos)

The tacos popular in some states reveal less about their ingredients:

  • Aguascalientes – tacos mineros (miner’s tacos)
  • Coahuila – tacos laguneros (Laguna region tacos)
  • Morelos – tacos acorazados (battleship tacos)
  • Puebla – taquitos miniatura (miniature tacos)

For some unusual ingredients, try:

  • Chiapas – tacos de hormiga chicatana (flying ant tacos)
  • Colima – tacos de sesos (brain tacos)
  • Hidalgo – tacos de gusanos de maguey (maguey worm tacos)
  • Yucatán – tacos de tzic de venado (shredded venison tacos)

Feeling daring? Try the tacos envenenados in Zacatecas. The literal meaning is “poisoned tacos”, but they are apparently named so as not to reveal all their ingredients!

Tacos have become incredibly popular. While they predate the Spanish conquest, they are now well on their way to conquering large swathes of North America and Europe.

The regional patterns is analyzed further by Frank Jacobs in 604 – A Tacography of Mexico

For more about tacos, we recommend reading La tacopedia. Enciclopedia del taco by Deborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena (Trilce Ediciones, 2012).

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Sep 012012
 

Tequila is made by distilling the juice of certain species of agave plants. Agaves are commonly called “century plants” in the USA, a name derived from the length of time they supposedly grow before producing a flowering stalk – actually, from eight to twenty years depending on the species, rather than the hundred suggested by their common name! Some species flower only once and die shortly afterwards, others can flower almost every year. Agaves are no relation botanically to cacti, even though they are often mistakenly associated with them. The ideal agave for tequila is the Agave tequilana Weber azul which has bluish-colored leaves.

Agave field in Jalisco

Agave field in Jalisco. Photo: Tony Burton

The tequila agaves are started from seed or from onion-size cuttings. When the plants are mature (about 10 years later), their branches are cut off, using a long-handled knife called a coa, leaving the cabeza (or “pineapple”), which is the part used for juice extraction. Cabezas (which weigh from 10 to 120 kilos) are cut in half, and then baked in stone furnaces or stainless steel autoclaves for one to three days to convert their starches into sugars.

From the ovens, the now golden-brown cabezas are shredded and placed in mills which extract the juices or mosto. The mixture is allowed to ferment for several days, then two distillations are performed to extract the almost colorless white or silver tequila. The spirit’s taste depends principally on the length of fermentation. Amber (reposado) tequila results from storage in ex-brandy or wine casks made of white oak for at least two months, while golden, aged (añejo) tequila is stored in casks for at least a year, and extra-aged (extra añejo) for at least three years.

Distillation: the Filipino Connection

Mexico’s indigenous Indians knew how to produce several different drinks from agave plants, but their techniques did not include distillation, and hence, strictly speaking, they did not produce tequila. Fermented agave juice or pulque may be the oldest alcoholic drink on the continent; it is referred to in an archival Olmec text which claims that it serves as a “delight for the gods and priests”. Pulque was fermented, but not distilled.

If the indigenous peoples didn’t have distilled agave drinks, then how, when and where did distillation of agave first occur? In 1897, Carl Lumholtz, the famous Norwegian ethnologist, who spent several years living with remote Indian tribes in Mexico, found that the Huichol Indians in eastern Nayarit distilled agave juice using simple stills, but with pots which seemed to be quite unlike anything Spanish or pre-Columbian in origin.

By 1944, Henry Bruman, a University of California geographer, had documented how Filipino seamen on the Manila Galleon had brought similar stills to western Mexico, for making coconut brandy, during the late sixteenth century.

Dr. Nyle Walton, of the University of Florida, expanded on Bruman’s work, showing how the Spanish authorities had sought to suppress Mexican liquor production because it threatened to compete with Spanish brandy. This suppression led to the establishment of illicit distilling in many remote areas including parts of Colima and Jalisco. Even today, the word “tuba”, which means “coconut wine” in the Filipino Tagalog language, is used in Jalisco for mezcal wine before it is distilled for tequila. This is probably because the first stills used for mezcal distillation were Filipino in origin.

“Appelacion Controlée”

Though colonial authorities tried to suppress illegal liquors, the industry of illicit distilling clearly thrived. One eighteenth century source lists more than 81 different mixtures, including some truly fearsome-sounding concoctions such as “cock’s eye”, “rabbit’s blood”, “bone-breaker” and “excommunication”! By the 1670s, the authorities saw the wisdom of taxing, rather than prohibiting, liquor production.

For centuries, distilled agave juice was known as mezcal or vino de mezcal “mezcal wine”). It is believed that the first foreigner to sample it was a Spanish medic, Gerónimo Hernández, in the year 1651. The original method for producing mezcal used clay ovens and pots.

By the end of the nineteenth century, as the railroads expanded, the reputation of Tequila spread further afield; this is when the vino de mezcal produced in Tequila became so popular that people began calling it simply “tequila”. When the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, it swept away a preference for everything European and brought nationally-made tequila to the fore. Tequila quickly became Mexico’s national drink. It gained prominence north of the border during the second world war, when the USA could no longer enjoy a guaranteed supply of European liquors.

To qualify as genuine tequila, the drink has to be made in the state of Jalisco or in certain specific areas of the states of Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán and Tamaulipas. (We will take a closer look at this distribution in a future post).

The ideal growing conditions are found in semiarid areas where temperatures average about 20 degrees Centigrade, with little variation, and where rainfall averages 1000 mm/yr. In Jalisco, this means that areas at an elevation of about 1,500 meters above sea level are favored. Agaves prefer well-drained soils such as the permeable loams derived from the iron-rich volcanic rocks in Mexico’s Volcanic Axis.

Production of tequila has tripled within the last 15 years to about 250 million liters a year (2010). About 65% of this quantity is exported. Almost 80% of exports are to the USA, with most of the remainder destined for Canada and Europe.

Connoisseurs argue long and loud as to which is the better product, but all agree that the best of the best is made from 100% Agave tequilana Weber azul. I’m no connoisseur, but my personal favorite is Tequila Herradura, manufactured in Amatitán, a town between Tequila and Guadalajara. Anyone interested in the history of tequila will enjoy a visit to Herradura’s old hacienda “San José del Refugio” in Amatitán, where tequila has been made for well over a century. The factory is a working museum with mule-operated mills, and primitive distillation ovens, fueled by the bagasse of the maguey. The Great House is classic in style, with a wide entrance stairway and a first floor balustrade the full width of the building.

Visitors to the town of Tequila, with its National Tequila Museum, can  enter any one of several tequila factories to watch the processing and taste a sample. They can also admire one of the few public monuments to liquor anywhere in the world – a fountain which has water emerging from a stone bottle supported in an agave plant. “Tequila tourism” is growing in popularity. Special trains, such as “The Tequila Express” run on weekends from the nearby city of Guadalajara to Amatitán, and regular bus tours visit the growing areas and tequila distilleries. The town of Tequila holds an annual Tequila Fair during the first half of December to celebrate its famous beverage. Another good time to visit is on 24 July, National Tequila Day in the USA.

In 2006, UNESCO awarded World Heritage status to the agave landscape and old tequila-making facilities in Amatitán, Arenal and Tequila (Jalisco).

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Eco-tortillas: an environmentally friendly way to make Mexico’s staple food

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Feb 092012
 

Mexican scientists continue to find ways to improve the humble tortilla, one of the essential components of Mexican cuisine and a major source of calcium for many Mexicans. We described two years ago how researchers at the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico (UAM) had reduced pollution from the making of corn tortillas. This month, a press release from Cinvestav (Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional) reveals that researchers have developed a way to reduce the amount of lime required in the making of tortillas, while enhancing their dietary value. This will further reduce the pollution and ecological footprint associated with tortilla making:

Researchers have developed “environmentally friendly tortillas” that are more nutritious, help prevent osteoporosis, slow the aging process and help fight obesity. A team led by Juan de Dios Figueroa Cárdenas, of Cinvestav’s unit in Queretaro, developed an environmentally-friendly method to turn gourmet corn into tortillas that have a high nutritional content and double the shelf life, without increasing the price of the final product.

The current process used to make tortillas is “highly polluting” and “not very efficient,” resulting in tortillas that “in many cases do not contain the fiber or calcium” people need. Given the importance of tortillas in the Mexican diet since pre-Columbian times, researchers worked on developing a process that “does not produce pollutants” and replaces lime, a corrosive substance, with salts and other ingredients in the cooking process. The use of other salts retains the outer layers of corn kernels during cooking and preserves a large amount of nutrients that end up being lost in the existing process and generating an enormous amount of pollution and wasted water.

The tortillas are also useful in fighting obesity (a huge problem in Mexico) because they contain double the fiber of a traditional tortilla, Figueroa Cárdenas said, adding that the tortillas’ high calcium content will help prevent osteoporosis.

[This post is based on the text of the press release]

Tortilla-making. Photo: krebsmaus07 (Flickr)

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The geography of cacao production in Mexico

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Feb 032012
 

The cacao bean, the basis of cocoa and chocolate, is one of Mexico’s many culinary gifts to the world. Cacao beans come from the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao).

The main area for cacao cultivation is the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, known for its cacao for over three thousand years, since Olmec times. Cacao became especially prominent in later centuries among the Maya in south-eastern Mexico and the Aztecs in central Mexico, playing a key role in indigenous culture and economy. Among Mexico’s indigenous peoples, cacao beans were ground by hand and then mixed with water, ground corn and chile pepper, often flavored with vanilla or some other tropical plant. This drink was known as chocolate.

Aztec emperor Moctezuma drank chocolate daily. The household of Nezahualcóyotl, the chieftain of neighboring Texcoco, consumed more than 20 kg (44 lbs) of cacao a day. Cacao beans were traded throughout the region and were an important item of tribute in the Aztec empire. Cacao beans were widely used in Middle America as a form of currency; cacao beans were accepted in many regions and could be traded for almost anything.

For a fascinating, detailed, and meticulously referenced geographical analysis of cacao cultivation in pre-Columbian times, see  “The Distribution of Cacao Cultivation in Pre-Columbian America” by John F. Bergmann (Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 59, 1969).

Today, of course, cacao beans are used not only in the production of chocolates, but also for cacao-flavored liquor, cocoa butter and instant cocoa drinks.

Production methods

The south-eastern state of Tabasco currently accounts for around 70% of Mexican cacao production, with Chiapas adding 29% and Oaxaca and Guerrero 1% between them, though cacao trees are now cultivated as far north as Veracruz on the Gulf coast and Colima on the Pacific coast.

Cacao trees grow up to 6 m high with leaves up to 30 cm (12 in) long. The trees flower from the trunk and older branches. Seed pods contain cacao seeds which look somewhat like almonds.

Harvesting of the pod-like fruit (the cabosse) of the cacao tree runs from October to April each year. It is critical to choose the ripe pods and mature trees can be harvested several times each year.

How much cacao does Mexico produce?

Annual cacao production in Mexico

Annual cacao production in Mexico. Source: Financiera Rural, 2009

In 2008, Mexico produced 27,548 metric tons of cacao. Production has fallen rapidly since 2003 (see graph above) when it was almost twice as high at 49,965 metric tons.

The main reason for the drop in production is the low yield of cacao plantations, which has led many farmers to migrate away or choose alternative crops which have a greater profit potential. This is clearly indicated by the statistics for the area being used for cacao production which has also declined rapidly (see graph below) from about 82,000 hectares in 2003 to just 60,000 hectares in 2007.

The annual area under cacao in Mexico

The annual area under cacao in Mexico. Source: Financiera Rural, 2009

In any given year, less than 1% of this area suffers any form of climatic hazard that eliminates production. The average yield of cacao has risen by almost 8% a year in recent years to reach 578 kilos a hectare in 2007, as older and less productive trees are abandoned or replaced by other crops. Yields are higher than average in Guerrero and Oaxaca, about average in Tabasco, and well below average in Chiapas.

More than 70% of the world’s cacao production is in Africa, with a further 16% in Asia and Oceania. Mexico currently produces only 0.01% of the world production of 4 million metric tons a year. In 2007, Mexico exported 160,000 metric tons of cacao and cacao-derived products. However, to meet the demands of the domestic chocolate industry, Mexico also has to import each year at least 40,000 metric tons of cacao and products derived from cacao.

Consumption of cacao in Mexico has remained fairly steady at about 56,000 metric tons a year. The world demand for cacao is expected to increase by more than a million tons a year within the next 15 years, with strong demand from consumers in China, India and southern Asia. Europe is currently responsible for more than 40% of the world demand for cacao and its derivatives. Europe’s share of total world demand will fall dramatically in coming decades.

Source of data:

  • Monografía del cacao. Financiera Rural, August 2009.

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