Mexico City’s wholesale food market, Central de Abasto

 Books and resources, Other  Comments Off on Mexico City’s wholesale food market, Central de Abasto
Jul 072010

Have you ever wondered how food supplies are organized in a metropolitan area the size of Mexico City (population 20 million) so that all its inhabitants have regular access to fresh produce? Like most major world cities, Mexico City has a specialized wholesale market for food, Central de Abasto. It is located in Iztapalapa, south-east of the city center.

Nicola Twilley, a freelance writer currently based in Montreal, has written a wonderfully informative description of what a visit to the Central de Abasto is like on her fascinating blog edible geography

Map of Central de Abasto, Mexico City

Map of Central de Abasto, Mexico City. Click to enlarge.

The map is the “official” map of the Central de Abasto in all its glory. While I often organized market surveys for school groups in Mexico, I have to admit that I never dared take on the challenge of surveying the Central de Abasto. This map, and Twilley’s fun account of the market reminds me why I never had the courage!

Mexican markets, in all their guises, from the massive Central de Abasto down to a humble tianguis (street market) in a small village, are a fascinating aspect of Mexico’s geography, and well worth a book in their own right.



Reducing pollution from the making of corn tortillas

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Reducing pollution from the making of corn tortillas
Mar 202010

The traditional way of turning corn (maize) into tortillas pollutes large volumes of water and uses copious amounts of energy. Researchers at the biotechnology department of the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico (UAM) are developing a greatly improved “greener” way of  making tortillas.

Tortilla-making. Photo: krebsmaus07 (Flickr)

Tortillas cost less than a dollar a kilo in Mexico, but price rises for corn (and therefore tortillas) in recent years have caused the consumption of tortillas to fall to about 80 kg per person each year. According to the National Institute of Nutrition, tortillas account for about 45% of all the  calories consumed in Mexico.

Conventional tortilla mills cook the corn in a solution of calcium hydroxide (limewater) and then ground it into a dough. The process, known as nixtamalization, was originally developed in pre-Hispanic times. A ball of dough is then flattened into a round which is cooked on both sides on a hot comal to produce a tortilla. Residue from the nixtamalization proces contains starches, cellulose and calcium and is discarded into local drains.

About 54% of all the tortillas consumed in the country are made this way. The remainder come from a ground corn-flour mix to which water must be added to form a dough, marketed by giant commercial producers such as Maseca and Minsa.

Processing a single kilogram of corn for tortillas the conventional way requires two liters of water. There are 20,000 corn mills in Mexico; each one can pollute more than 1,000 liters of water every day. The UAM researchers were able to reduce pollution by conventional mills by 80% simply by introducing a more efficient filtering system for the cooked mass, allowing more dough to be extracted.

The researchers have now turned their attention to energy usage. Using solar energy to help heat the water should reduce the amount of natural gas required by as much as 40%. This could save mills a considerable amount of money. Each mid-sized mill (supplying dough to an average of 10 tortilla factories) spends about 2,300 dollars a month on energy.