Farmers, chefs fight to save classic ingredients in Mexican cuisine - GulfToday

Farmers, chefs fight to save classic ingredients in Mexican cuisine

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"Chile en Nogada" ("Poblano" Chili Pepper with Walnut Sauce) at Mexican restaurant. AFP

Speaking against a backdrop of two soaring, snow-capped volcanoes, Asuncion Diaz explains his fight to save the original poblano chile, one of the most important ingredients in Mexican cuisine, from climate change and other threats.

The pristine panorama notwithstanding, Diaz and other producers in Puebla say climate change is stalking this mountainous region in central Mexico and threatening the dark green chile pepper for which it is famous.

"The chiles get burned by the sun, and if it rains they go bad," says Diaz, a 55-year-old agricultural engineer, taking a break from work on his plantation outside San Andres Calpan, a village nestled in the skirts of the region's twin volcanoes, Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl.

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View of pomegranate, one of the fruits used for the "Chile en Nogada." AFP

"When I was a little girl, Popocatepetl had snow year-round. I was 35 when I saw it without snow for the first time. It made me cry," says Cruz, now 64.

Cruz runs a cooperative that helps local farmers sell their produce directly to some of Mexico's most famous restaurants.

She says her mission is to save the "saberes y sabores" the knowledge and flavours of traditional Mexican food.

Climate change is just one of the threats facing the ingredients of Mexico's renowned cuisine, which was named an essential part of the world's cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2010.

Fighting back

Diaz says the poblano has also taken a hit because of the arrival of hybrid seeds imported from China that grow year-round and are more weather-resistant but also yield less-tasty, less-crunchy peppers.

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A chef cooks "Chile en Nogada." AFP

"We're losing the tradition of the original chili, the one our ancestors ate," he said.

Biting into a classic chili poblano at a family dinner in Mexico City, Enrique Garcia closes his eyes in bliss. He agrees.

"I haven't eaten one like this since I was a boy. They're like my grandmother's the texture, the thickness, the crunchiness," says Garcia, 49.

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View of Tomato Kidney, a traditional Mexican variety. AFP

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which launched a campaign last month to save Mexico's classic ingredients, six out of every 10 chills consumed in the country today come from Chinese seeds.

Munoz buys his chiles from Diaz's plantation, which meticulously protects its crop from hybrid seeds.

"They are saving the chile poblano," says the chef.

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View of a "Poblano" chili pepper with other ingredients used to make "Chile en Nogada." AFP

Original versions of those ingredients are increasingly scarce, in part because consumers have come to prefer imported hybrids.

Munoz illustrates the point clutching two small, funny-looking apples in his hand.

"One of the reasons they're in decline is their size. They're tiny. These days everyone's looking for the 'ideal' of big, shiny fruit," he says.

But they are fooling themselves, he adds: the native version is sweeter and tastier.

Agence France-Presse