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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Maya Miel, Oxkutzcab, Yucatan, Mexico

Oxkutzcab (red), Yucatan peninsula in Mexico
My friend Barbara recently vacationed in Mexico and  brought me back honey from Oxkutzcab, a town in the Yucatan state of Mexico. Interestingly, according to Wiki the name 'Oxkutzcab' in the Yucatec Maya language means 'place of ramon, tobacco and honey.' This sounds very promising. But first, what is ramon? It turns out it is a tree (Brosimum alicastrum) known as the breadnut or Maya nut tree and is part of the family of trees that includes mulberries and figs. In some indigenous Mesoamerican languages it is known as 'ox,' and I'm assuming the 'Ox' in 'Oxkutzcab' refers to it. But, back to Oxkutzcab.

Oxkutzcab is a small town, with a population of about 21,000. It is an agricultural community where sugar, tobacco, maize, fruit, and Henequen is grown. Henequen (Agave fourcroydes) is an agave. The leaves are very fibrous and are used to make rope and twine.

Iglesia a san Francisco de Asis, Oxkutzcab, Yucatan, Mexico
Oxkutzcab is also a very old town, dating back to pre-Columbian times. If you google Oxkutzcab and look for images you'll see many of a very beautiful and impressive church, the iglesia dedicada a san Francisco de Asis. According to web sources, after the Spanish conquest of Yucatan, Oxkutzcab was established as a Spanish colonial town (1550s) and Mayan temples were demolished. In their place this large Franciscan church was built. The current iteration was built between 1640-1693, and in front of it is the town's large market square.

Oxkutzcab, which has a number of interesting tourist attractions, is known for its "Festival of Oranges" (Feria de la Naranja). This isn't too surprising since the municipality of Oxkutzcab is known as the 'Orchard of the State of Yucatan.' I won't be surprised if the honey from the area has a citrus quality.

29th Annual Festival of Oranges, Oxkutzcab
The Festival of Oranges happens at the end of November each year, and as far as I can gather they celebrate everything citrus (and a few other local specialties) from local producers. I found a fantastic photos of the 29th annual festival showing a very impressive tree made of oranges and other citrus. In addition to being able to buy and sample produce, judges award prizes, there there are musicians and artists, and fireworks.

The town is also known for its tricicleros, a kind of a bicycle with two wheels in the front separated by a support, where you can transport passengers or haul loads.

Tricicleros, Oxkutzcab, Mexico
 I also found some information about beekeeping in the Yucatan. It seems that honey has been harvested in the area for as long as there have been people there. Currently there are an estimated 11,000 beekeepers in the state. More recently, to be more attractive to European buyers, some beekeepers have formed collectives that share equipment and marketing costs, and produce and harvest organic-certified honey. The rural, unspoilt area and traditional beekeeping methods make the Yucatan particularly well suited to producing organic honey. In 2011-12 it was estimated that  8-10,000 tons of honey were produced, with most of it being sold in Germany.

Maya Miel, Oxkutzcab, Yucatan, Mexico
The honey I have is packaged and produced by Maya Miel of Tekax, a small town just south of Oxkutzcab. Their website is pretty basic but states that their honey is 100% natural Yucatan honey and of the highest quality. The honey is an opaque reddish-yellow color. The opacity suggests that it has not been overly filtered so that some of the particulate matter and pollen have been retained. The honey is very thin and difficult to twirl enough on a toothpick to sample. It has an herbal first flavor with light, subtle slightly bitter (citrus?) after taste. It is not too sweet. Given how thin and runny it is I think it would be perfect drizzled on yoghurt or hot buttered toast. The flavor is delicate, however, and may be lost in baking or other cooking, though it might add a nice taste to herbal and black teas.

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