While wandering around the markets of Yucatán, you’ll soon encounter some strange-looking fruits and vegetables. We’re home to a number of unique varieties of produce – while visiting, try them out!
Looking like something drawn by Dr. Seuss, the pitahaya is a bright pink cactus fruit. Eaten raw, it’s mildly sweet and low in calories. Like a kiwi, it’s full of tiny seeds. It makes a great addition to a fruit salad, and can be juiced.
Nance is a small, tart, yellow cherry-like fruit with a strong flavor and penetrating scent. The fruits are eaten raw or cooked as dessert, and in colonial times were included in soup or in stuffing for meats. They are also made into a candy, Dulce de Nance, prepared with the fruit cooked in sugar and water.
Guaya, a relative of the lychee, has a thin but rigid layer of skin, traditionally cracked by the teeth. Inside the skin is the tart, tangy, cream pulp of the fruit, which is sucked by putting the whole fruit inside the mouth.
Saramuyo is another alien-looking fruit from Yucatán! It’s known elsewhere as sugar apple or sweetsop. This member of the anona family is found in local markets, especially in the Valladolid area of the Yucatán. It has the green, scaly skin typical of the anonas, with soft, sweet white pulp used in ices, ice cream and aguas.
The mamey fruit is oval shaped, similar to a football, and is 3-8 inches in length. It has a relatively thick, woody, brown skin and its flesh has an orange/reddish tint. Although you can eat mamey raw, you must first remove its skin and any pits inside. Raw mamey sapote is usually eaten with sugar, it’s also added to fruit salads, blended fruit drinks, and as an ice cream flavor. The taste is similar to sweet potato pie with a dash of almond.
Cebollina is an herb, somewhat of a cross between chives and spring onion greens.
Camote – white sweet potatoes – are used much like potatoes. They are usually boiled, then pureed with butter, salt, and pepper.
Chile Maxs (pronounced “mash”) – tiny red or green chiles that pack a powerful punch!
Elote pibil -or, pibilina – maize, much tougher and less sweet than North American sweet corn, is soaked in salt water, then baked underground in a pit lined with hot rocks, a Maya style of cooking known as “pibil.” The end result tastes like smoked corn.
Chaya, or Maya spinach, is an important source of vitamins and protein. It must be cooked, as the raw leaves are toxic.
Sour orange – naranja agria – is used in many recipes, especially those using achiote paste. If not available, you can use a 50-50 blend of white vinegar and orange juice. They look like bumpy, green oranges.
Chayote is a member of the squash family, it’s pale green and avocado shaped. It can be used in any recipe calling for summer squash. The fruit does not need to be peeled and can be eaten raw in salads. It can also be boiled, stuffed, mashed, baked, fried, or pickled.
Guanábana – this fruit has a leathery green skin covered with soft spines. It’s a favorite ice cream flavor, and the juice is available everywhere.
Tuna – sweet prickly pear – this is the fruit of the nopal cactus. It’s eaten raw, made into fruit drinks, or cooked into a jam. Be careful – the intense purple-red juice stains everything!
Be adventurous! Visit the local markets and try some local produce!