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Corn: Mexico’s Staff of Life

Corn: Mexico’s Staff of Life

Have you ever been to a taco stand in Cabo and been asked what kind of taco you’d like, flour or corn?

It’s all personal preference, there are no wrong answers, but…you may have noticed that most Mexicans prefer corn, which they call maíz (pronounced ‘ma-ees’).

A tall annual cereal grass, maíz was originally domesticated in Mexico and grown for its large, elongated ears of starchy seeds.

While the ancient Maya planted squash, beans, peppers and other vegetables, their main food was maíz. Xilonen, the Aztec goddess of sustenance, was often depicted with a double ear of corn in each hand.

Cultivated by indigenous communities for thousands of years, corn is a pure representation of Mexico’s ancient gastronomic heritage. Inexpensive and delicious, it continues to be a mainstay of Mexican cuisine, from basic street food to creative preparations at farm-to-table restaurants. Maíz is a cultigen; human intervention is required for it to propagate. It took centuries for corn to evolve into the everyday staples enjoyed today, such as tacos, tostadas, and tortilla chips. Mexicans have evolved a vast number of recipes that use corn and all its derivatives. Tostadas and their crunchy texture, for example, are a perfect accompaniment to seafood, meat, and vegetables. Hot pepper sauce is a popular condiment. The possibilities of corn, the most versatile of cereals, are nearly endless.

Looking for a place to sample authentic maize-based dishes while on Quivira? El Mexicano at The Market at Quivira features green or red chilaquiles that are absolutely delicious: Fried corn tortilla bathed with green (or red) sauce, accompanied by refried beans, cream, cheese, onion and cilantro. Diners can also add eggs, chicken or flank steak.

Another option is The Bistro at Sunset Beach, where the ‘Pueblo Bonito Nachos’ are a cut above: Fried corn tortilla chips, refried beans, low-fat cheddar and Monterey Jack, guacamole, jalapeno peppers and Mexican sauce. This appetizer

can be fortified with grilled chicken breast, grilled skirt beef cut or sautéed shrimp.

LaFrida, the fine dining Mexican restaurant at Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach, offers many traditional yet modern dishes based on corn. The corn is prepared through a homemade artisanal process called Nixtamal.

One of the distinct characteristics of the cereal is its great variety of species. According to the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO for its Spanish abbreviation), there are 64 types of corn grown in Mexico, of which 59 are native. Each genus has its own unique flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes. Small wonder that corn is the most widely grown grain crop in the Americas. Trivia fact: the total annual production of corn, now cultivated throughout the world, surpasses that of wheat or rice.