Queso fresco is one of the most widely produced and consumed dairy products in Mexico. It is characterized by its mild flavor, firm, creamy texture, and freshness. Over time, queso fresco has evolved, so now we can find it in different versions. In some regions of the country, for example, fresh cuaresmeño chile, epazote, or chipotle chile are added, and it is traditionally known as botanero cheese. The incorporation of these ingredients in a traditional way helps to preserve this product for a longer time, in addition to improving its sensory and nutritional properties.
Although the addition of these ingredients to fresh cheese has been done in an artisanal manner, the dairy industry, according to consumer demand, has sought to innovate its products in such a way as to offer consumers new cheese alternatives that are not only nutritious and sensorially attractive, but also offer beneficial health properties.
In this context, some studies have shown that the addition of quinoa extract can improve the sensory properties (flavor, color, and texture) of fresh cheese. In similar studies, it has been determined that the incorporation of lycopene (organic pigment) from tomato (microencapsulated) does not generate significant changes in the total fatty acid content, but improves the texture of cheese. Likewise, it has been reported that the addition of Inula britannica extracts to cheddar cheese increases the content of phenolic compounds and their antioxidant properties.
These findings have motivated the search for new sustainable plant sources with nutritional contribution and, by extension, with health benefits, which opens new opportunities for different traditional plant species in Mexico as ingredients for the development of functional dairy foods.
In this sense, huauzontle, a pseudocereal native and traditionally consumed in Mexico, stands out for its nutritional properties, mainly for its fiber, vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content, in addition to its low caloric content. Despite its goodness, the consumption of this plant is mainly concentrated in some regions of central Mexico in the form of typical dishes such as soup, mole, capeados or stuffed with cheese, and fresh in salads; unfortunately, with time, the knowledge and tradition of consumption of this plant have been lost in the new generations.
To diversify the consumption of this pseudocereal in the Mexican diet, researchers Aaron F. González Córdova, Lourdes Santiago López, Belinda Vallejo Galland, and Adrián Hernández Mendoza, from the Laboratory of Biotechnology of Lactic Fermentations of the Center for Research in Food and Development, together with Professor Hugo Sergio García, from the Technological Institute of Veracruz, through the project "Beyond the culinary identity of pre-Hispanic gastronomy:
Fermented huauzontle, a new paradigm for mental health care", approved in the call for Paradigms and Controversies of Science 2022, has developed work that evidences that huauzontle fermented by epiphytic lactic acid bacteria can be used as a base for the elaboration of functional beverages with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and whose consumption could help reduce symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.
Under this perspective, Diana Guadalupe Hernández Aguilar, a student at the Instituto Tecnológico de los Mochis, under the direction of Professor Adrián Hernández Mendoza, is currently working on her undergraduate thesis, which consists of adding fermented huauzontle to fresh cheese, to combine the essence of these traditional foods of gastronomic importance in Mexico, to take advantage of the health benefits they provide in a complementary manner.
By Diana Guadalupe Hernández Aguilar, undergraduate thesis student in the Coordination of Animal Food Technology, and Aarón F. González Córdova, Lourdes Santiago López, Belinda Vallejo Gallad and Adrián Hernández Mendoza, CIAD researchers.