Ingredients of the Yucatán



These prickly pods that grow on bushy trees throughout Yucatán hide bright red seeds with many uses. For centuries, achiote has been closely associated with the foods and traditions of the Maya, who employed it as a paint and dye. Its use continues in Yucatán cuisine as an important ingredient in meat marinades and even as a colorant in tamales.


Calabaza, Calabacita

Pattypan and summer squash (or zucchini) their respective English names, these two small squash are relatives of the oldest in the world – those first cultivated in southern Mexico around 8500 B.C. They are the most frequently used squash in Yucatán and are available year-round in stews, soups and side dishes.


Also called “Mexican cinnamon”, this variety is far more subtle and aromatic than the cassia variety used in the United States. It is used throughout Mexico for moles, in chocolate dishes and for seasoning meats.



This leafy green vegetable shaped like a large maple leaf has sustained the Mayas for centuries. It is substantially more nutritious than spinach, with more levels of calcium, potassium, iron and Vitamin C. Chaya is used chopped in tamales and egg dishes, is steamed or sautéed as a side dish, and is even blended into fruit drinks.



A member of the family that includes cucumber, melon and squash, chayote has been cultivated in Mesoamerica since pre-Columbian times. The fruit of a perennial climbing vine, chayote is used culinarily much like squash, and is always an ingredient in the Yucatecan stew, puchero.

Epazote, Apazote

A pungent, bitter herb with a taste and smell likened variously to citrus, mint, bleach or turpentine, epazote appears throughout Mexico in many recipes, including bean and meat dishes, stews and quesadillas, but perhaps nowhere is it used as frequently as in the cuisine of Yucatán.

Espelón, Xpelón

Belonging to the same family and similar to the blackeyed pea, xpelón plays a significant role in the agriculture, commerce and cuisine of Yucatán. Generally consumed fresh, xpelones form multicolored confetti when mixed with bright yellow masa in our famous tamal de xpelón.



It is inaccurate to say that maíz was an important part of the Maya diet. Instead, maíz and above all the tortilla (waaj) was the Maya diet. The elaboration of maíz dishes over the centuries took so many forms that it is impossible to list them all. From beverages to thickened gruels, from tamales to tortillas, maíz formed the major part of the diet throughout Mesoamerica and is still the staple diet of indigenous peoples in Yucatán.

Naranja Agria

Naranja Agria, Amarga

The Seville or sour orange is featured as a predominant ingredient in many dishes typical of Yucatán cuisine.


Known in English as “dragonfruit”, this odd looking fruit grows on a vine-like epiphyte cactus indigenous to the tropical regions of Mexico and Central America. High in anti-oxidants, the white pulp of the fruit is studded with scores of tiny black seeds. It is consumed by scooping out the fleshy interior, or by liquifying it with water and sugar or honey as a beverage.