In 2018, renowned chef and writer Samin Nosrat filmed the Netflix documentary series Salt Fat Acid Heat. In this series, Nosrat traveled to different parts of the world to understand how salt, fats, acids, and heat are used by various cultures to create the best dishes on the planet. Of course, the state of Yucatán was the place she visited to explore the complexities of citrus and acidic flavors.
It comes as no surprise that an internationally acclaimed chef chose our state to represent acidic cuisine out of all the cities, countries, and regions in the world. Yucatecos love all things tangy, and we’ve become true masters of citrus cultivation.
The citrus of southern Yucatán
All the magic happens in the south, in the area known as the “Southern Fruit Subregion.” This zone includes the municipalities of Akil, Dzan, Maní, Oxkutzcab, and Ticul. Geographers Ana García de Fuentes and Juan Córdoba y Ordóñez, mention in a chapter for the book “Biodiversidad y Desarrollo Humano en Yucatán”, that although the subregion only covers 3.3% of the state’s territory, and is home to only 4.5% of Yucatán’s population, it produces 45.6% of all citrus harvested in the region. And the citrus fruits produced locally are outstanding: no store-bought fruit will carry the flavor provided by anything you try while you’re exploring southern Yucatán (while in season, of course). Here, grapefruit is sweeter, limes are juicier, oranges are tastier.
What citrus fruits are harvested in Yucatán?
The variety of fruits harvested is vast, but among the most common are Persian lime, mandarin, grapefruit, Yucatecan lime, and the famous bitter orange. If you’re used to shopping for citrus at the supermarket, or are visiting from other places in the world, you may be surprised to find that here, oranges, grapefruit, and mandarin oranges might have touches of color, but are mostly bright green. This is due to our warm weather; while elsewhere their skins change color as the leaves turn in the fall, in Yucatán they need to continue producing chlorophyll (the substance that makes plants green) to protect themselves from getting sunburned. To determine whether they’re ripe, you’ll have to feel them or, better yet, ask your “Marchante” (vendor) whether they’re already “buenas”.
It’s worth mentioning that taking care of citrus trees is quite a challenging task. According to a document from the National Agricultural Planning, the temperature has a significant influence on the development of lemon and grapefruit, lengthening or shortening their ripening processes. In addition, specific pH levels in the soil and specific irrigation patterns or rainfall are required for optimal growth.
Citrus production on a national scale
But the efforts of farmers in southern Yucatán are not in vain. According to a report from SIAP, the state ranks sixth nationally in orange production, generating over 185 thousand tons in 2022. In the case of limes, over 99 thousand tons were produced, ranking seventh; not bad at all, considering México is among the top five citrus producers worldwide, and the first when it comes to limes specifically.
In 2012, the Representation of the Ministry of Agriculture in Yucatán stated that 10% of the region’s citrus is used for the production of juices. The remaining 90% is consumed without processing, “directly from the fields.” Several kilograms are sent to states such as Jalisco, Puebla, and Nuevo León for sale. Still, they are also used locally to prepare traditional dishes such as marinated turkey and Cochinita Pibil.
Citrus in Yucatecan cuisine
The high quality of the work of Yucatecan farmers is undeniable. Anyone who has tasted a Sopa de Lima or a good Puchero can testify to the excellence of the southeast. So, if you happen to be in the southern part of the state, don’t forget to stop by and buy some “Chinas” (as Yucatecos call oranges), so you can experience firsthand the delights that Yucatán has to offer.
By Carlos Argüelles
Fashion designer and cultural agent. Lover of art, history, coffee, and Yucatecan gastronomy.
Photography by Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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