Traditional Mexican cuisine, even if largely based on corn and beans, has long been recognized for its excellent flavors and use of the many varieties of spices and ingredients indigenous to Mexico. In fact, such recognition was formally acknowledged by the UNESCO in October 2010, when the world organization declared Mexican cuisine an “Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
However, many of the classic native ingredients that make Mexican dishes distinguishable, have long been at risk, due to the effects of climate change. So much so that hybrid species, mostly coming from China, have been introduced as alternative ingredients. In essence, the widespread consumption of the hybrid varieties, is taking away the intangible heritage distinction of traditional Mexican cuisine.
That is why farmers and chefs in Mexico have joined the movement, aimed at saving the country’s indigenous classic ingredients from the harms of climate change. Based on a report published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), six (6) out of every ten (10) farm produce consumed by Mexicans today, are grown from Chinese seeds; prompting the WWF to launch a campaign geared toward saving Mexico’s classic native ingredients.
The Poblano Chile Pepper
The poblano chile, regarded by many Mexican chefs as one of the most important ingredients in giving traditional Mexican dishes their unique taste, is the most threatened. The dark green, mild-tasting pepper is a basic ingredient to the country’s iconic “chiles en nogada” and to the spicy yet savory reddish-brown sauce called “mole”
Asuncion Diaz, an agricultural engineer and one of the ardent producers of the native poblano chile in Puebla, described how the occurrences of drought, heavy precipitation and frost have affected poblano farms. Grown in the mountainous region of Central Mexico, Diaz says the chiles either get burned by the scorching heat of the sun, or turn rotten when rains fall heavily.
Feĺlow poblano grower Hilda Cruz explained that the mild-tasting dark green peppers grow best in the villages nestled between a pair of volcanoes, Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. Cruz, who is now 64, recalls that Popocatepetl used to be covered with snow all year round, giving their region a cooler, milder climate.
However, snow started to disappear and the Popo eventually lost its snow covering. At first, it was widely believed that the disappearing snow was mainly caused by the volcano’s increased internal activities. Yet the Ministry of Environment in Mexico said that climate change is causing the region to heat up, resulting to droughts and heavy precipitation.
Cruz said it is now her mission is to fight for the preservation of the “saberes y sabores” (knowledge and flavors) of the classic ingredients that distinguish traditional Mexican dishes. She organized a cooperative association that has been helping local farmers sell their indigenous chiles, maize, beans, tomatoes, gourds and other crops directly to some of Mexico’s most prominent restaurants.
Top Mexican Chefs are Also in the Fight to Preserve the Authenticity of Mexican Cuisine
Chefs behind Mexico City’s famous restaurants are also in the fight to preserve the authenticity of Mexican cuisine. Chef Ricardo Munoz Zurita, the star chef of “Azul,” buys his chiles from Diaz’s farm because the plantation grows only the native chile poblano.
Yet he is anxious about other ingredients that go into the stuffing of the traditional “chile en nogada.” Many consumers are now using fruits and stuffings like creole peaches, San Juan pears, panochera apples, grown from imported hybrid seeds.
According to Chef Zurita, one of the reasons consumers prefer the hybrid varieties is because the latter are bigger and shinier. Yet he argues that those who do so are only fooling themselves, because everyone knows that the native Mexican fruits, even if smaller in size, are tastier and sweeter.