The Fruit and Vegetables of Mexico

One of my favorite things about living in Mexico is the overflowing bins of fresh produce for sale on every corner. My last stint in Latin America was in Argentina, a vegetable wasteland where I was lucky to find an anemic red bell pepper for $4. As a result, I am constantly fascinated by the huge variety of Mexican fruits and vegetables on sale at our little downstairs market. Some of them I know well, some are new to me, but I’m gradually working my way through, veggie by veggie.

Abundance of Mexican fruits and vegetables

Here are the most notable Mexican fruits and vegetables I’ve come across:

 Avocados

Avocados - A favorite of the Mexican fruits and vegetables

Of course. Mexico is pretty much THE avocado country. Most of the avocados you eat elsewhere in the world are grown here (or California). In Sayulita, we mostly have the standard Hass avocados, but occasionally you will see the large green Fuerte avocados.

The best thing to do with avocados is obviously to make guacamole- the heavenly mix of smashed avocados, tomato, onion, lime, garlic and salt (maybe a touch of jalapeno). Guacamole is an ancient dish that traces it’s roots back to the Aztecs. Avocados are also commonly used as a garnish, on sandwiches, tacos or as a garnish. I’ve even seen them used in creamy chocolate pudding.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes at the Market - Mexican Fruits and Vegetables

Traveling through Spain and Italy, it is easy to forget that tomatoes are a New World food. Mexicans have been cooking with tomatoes far far back before Columbus ever showed up. Together with onion, cilantro, and lime they are ubiquitous in almost every dish.

Tomatoes are used in all sorts of things, from mole to ropa vieja to various soups and stews. Their most important use though is probably as the base for many salsas and hot sauces.

Tomatillos

Turns Out Tomatillos Are Not Tomatoes - Learn More About Mexican Fruits and Vegetables

Despite their name and appearance, tomatillos are not actually related to tomatoes. They are hard green bulbs with shriveled skin and an acidic, sour taste. Their most important use is as the base of most green salsas.

Jicama

Jicama Served with Chile and Lime - Mexican Fruits and VegetablesJicamas kind of resembles a giant turnip, but when cut and sliced are more like a crisper, albino cucumber. The best and most popular way to eat jicama is sliced and sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder. You’ll often see them, along with cucumbers served this way as a street or beach snack.

Chayote

Conquering my fear of chayotes - Discovering Mexican Fruits and Vegetables

The first time I saw a chayote I was confused, the second time I was terrified. The chayote looks like a pale green potato or a wrinkly pear. Except that some varieties have spikes (sharp ones!).

Chayotes have a very mild flavor, similar to zucchini and can be used raw in salads, mashed like potatoes or cooked in stir-fries or soups. Prickly chayotes are apparently sweeter and firmer. I still haven’t made anything with these, but I’m determined to conquer my fear soon.

Nopales

Nopales are pretty awesome. They are de-spined cactus paddles, otherwise known as prickly pear. Nopales are eaten in salads, used as a taco topping and served with scrambled eggs. They taste tender and green, kind of like a green bean but are usually topped with a lot of salt.

Chiles

Learning All About the Chiles - Mexican Fruits and Vegetables Chiles are of course, essential to Mexican cooking. There are many, many types and you can buy them all fresh, canned or dried. I will be writing another post explaining all the different varieties, but the most ubiquitous fresh peppers seem to be poblanos, jalapenos, habaneros, and serranos. I can’t prove it, but I think the jalapenos sold here are spicier than the ones in the US.

Most are primarily used for seasoning and salsa purposes, with the exception of poblanos, which pop up everywhere: stuffed as chile rellenos, sliced as a taco topping and roasted with cream (a dish called rajas con crema).

Corn

I already explained how corn is the building block of Mexican food. When it’s not being ground up to make masa it’s served on the cob smothered in butter, or in a cup with hot sauce and mayonnaise. Mexico is also home to those supersize boiled corn kernels called mote, which are an ingredient in my favorite soup, pozole.

Limes

What would we do without limes?! They are everywhere and in everything, a serious staple of Mexican cooking, rivaled only by big white onions. As far as I can tell lemons do not appear anywhere in Mexican cooking, it’s all about the limes.

The limes here are the tiny, golfball-sized kind that pack a flavorful punch. They are used to flavor literally everything from sauces to margaritas to chicken and shrimp. Nearly every dish is served with a side of lime wedges to spritz over top. One of my favorite drinks here is a big glass of agua de limon, basically lime-ade.

Jamaica

What On Earth is Jamaica?  Discovering Mexican Fruits and Vegetables
Agua Fresca de Jamaica

Our first few weeks here Mike and I were utterly puzzled by the jamaica juice served nearly everywhere. It tasted like cranberry juice but had big chunks of… something floating in it. And it’s pronounced ha-may-ca, not Jamaica. Eventually, we learned that jamaica is actually hibiscus flowers (yes those pretty red ones). Mexicans make sweetened iced tea out of them, but I’ve also seen them on quesadillas and even tacos. We will definitely be smuggling back a big bag of jamaica leaves when we leave.

Guanabana

More fruit than vegetable but still unique. Guanabana or soursop looks similar to jackfruit and tastes like a weird combo of strawberry, citrus, and banana. It’s mostly served in juice form. I bought some guanabana butter (similar to apple butter) but it’s too sour for my taste.  It is certainly one of the more interesting Mexican fruits and vegetables.

Mamey

Rough and tan on the outside, bright orange on the inside, we first thought these were sweet potatoes. They are sold in giant wheelbarrows on the street during the winter-time, cut open like flowers. Their flavor is hard to describe, similar to pumpkin but sweeter.

The Usual Suspects of Mexican Fruits and Vegetables

The Usual Suspects of Mexican Fruits and Vegetables

Also available and widely used in Mexico are: onions (white, yellow and red), carrots, bell peppers of all colors, mushrooms, zucchini (including this freaky long curved variety), cucumber, cabbage, and lettuce. Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are everywhere, as well as plantains, radishes and the odd variety of squash. On the fruit front we’ve got apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries watermelons and more pineapples than you could ever hope to consume. Pomegranate season has passed now but they were everywhere a few months ago as well.

Some things are hard to come by though: lemons are vexingly rare (who needs them when you have lime?). We can get basil at the farmer’s market and spinach is common but I haven’t yet seen kale, asparagus or brussel sprouts.

Safe to say, we are eating well here with all the Mexican fruits and vegetables. We cook mostly vegetarian at home, partly for economic reasons and partly because the raw materials here are so freaking good. As I write this I’m actually sipping a homemade spinach and blueberry smoothie, a sweet treat considering it’s January.

While we have been eating at home a lot we have explored the food scene of Sayulita.  Here are some of our favorite places to eat:

Where to Eat in Sayulita Part One: Mexican Food

Where to Eat in Sayulita Part Two: Non-Mexican Food

What makes shopping for vegetables even better here, is that we have no local supermarket. Instead of shopping under fluorescent lights, we pick out our veggies at one of three or four local shops, wandering between them in search of the juiciest peppers and ripest avocados. Every morning I watch them arrive on the truck from local farms, giant heaps of tomatoes, or pineapples or limes. Basically, I live in heaven.

 

Wanna cook with some of these delicious ingredients? These cookbooks can help:

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25 thoughts on “The Fruit and Vegetables of Mexico”

  1. Would love that kind of variety, although I have to add that Argentina isn’t a wasteland for fruits and vegetables. It just depends where you look.

    If you stick to the tourist path, then yes, you’ll get mostly empanadas and meat. If you explore the local markets and go off the path, you’ll find some amazing things.

    Salta province, for example, grows everything from wine grapes to mangos to peppers and ginger. It’s fresh and amazing. Because of the good produce, the bees make some of the best honey I’ve had in my life anywhere.

    But like I said, you have to know where to find it. 🙂

  2. You’ve just convinced me that I need to move Mexico much higher up my “need to visit” list! I’m vegan and I LOVE spicy food so, you know, what you’ve just described to me is pretty much my version of food heaven. I’m literally wrapped in blankets and hugging a hot water bottle right now (stupid London winter!) but I’m now craving pineapple like you wouldn’t believe 🙂

  3. This looks absolutely amazing and mouth-watering! I love going to a local market here in Belgium. Local produce is so fascinating to me. There’s such a diversity to be found!

  4. It’s so nice being able to get many of these in grocery stores in the States. In Shanghai sometimes we went weeks without seeing a single lime. You don’t realize how many recipes call for lime juice until you can’t find any!

    1. The fruits Adam is referring to are called Guamuchiles and look similar to a green bean/pea pod and you only eat the white fuzz around the black seed inside of the pod…

      As for the fruit Jeff asks about, i suspect he might be talking about Arrayan or Arrayanes in plural…

      Hope this helps, i know all of these because i am Mexican and i grew up eating such fruits…

      1. Thank you for your help. In a recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, I had sampled some local racilla including two flavored ones. One was passion fruit and the other was, I thought they said, amallan. The Arrayan fruit you speak of could be it and is very tasty and liked it more the passion fruit one. My wife and I feel in love with Puerto Vallarta and will return, maybe even retire there. The fresh fruit there is wonderful. Nothing beats a tree ripened banana!!
        Thanks again for your input!

  5. loveing this guys thanks for the big help excited to visit mexico one day as i have dreamed about the vibrant colours of the fruit. rofl lmfao

  6. You needn’t be afraid of Chayote. Raw, it actually tastes similar to jicama. A versatile, but strange and creepy looking fruit it, it has a very small seed in the center. Cooked, it’s delicious in quiches, stews, omelettes, pies, sauces, chili, you name it.

    Remove the spikes, simply by wearing work gloves, and using a peeler. The spikes are nature’s way of keeping wildlife from eating it.

  7. logan Mcnaughton

    thanks for the information but its not what im looking for. however im looking at this information for this stupid website that my teacher gave me as an assessment and i have to complete the whole website to even get half a grade its a super long website i think its 50 different subjects or something like that. anyway i probably failed because my teacher monitors what i type so see you in Spanish class. hes behind me… see ya in the office first.

  8. I’m from Mexico and the fruits and vegetables that we eat where I live are Guava, Tunas, garbanzo(also know as sweet peas) but he pick them out of the plant when they are still green. And put in a big pan with a little water. Still inside the shell. And when they will cook for a bit but not too much. You don’t want to eat dried garbanzo. ANd when it’s ready add salt and eat.

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