Technological development, as an element of modernization, has constituted the main factor of communication, which allows contact even in the farthest places from urban areas. Paradoxically, this has caused, to a great extent, the loss of cultural identity and with it the culinary traditions and customs.
This trend towards modernity, based on cultural patterns foreign to the country, has led to greater consumption of new products, both domestic and imported, and to the neglect of traditional food technology, which, with its wealth of ingredients, flavors, recipes, and utensils for preparing food, is considered one of the most diverse at the international level. In other words, the consumption of traditional foods has decreased in Mexico, partly because their qualities have not been promoted and they are being replaced by others of less nutritional value, leaving more and more marginalized the native consumption habits.
Therefore, the artisan who works in this field has the need to be creative; his survival depends on the originality of his product and the diversification he presents. The great variety of tastes and flavors in the artisan's field is useful to widen the range of industrial products that evoke the tradition by the artisan taste. This is the reason why all Mexican sweets and desserts are the fruit of the creativity and ingenuity of those who have made a profession out of the pleasant task of making life sweeter.
The reason for the emergence of Mexican sweets is very simple: their flavor and ingredients are one hundred percent natural. In addition, their production is handmade and whoever tries them once, recognizes the almost unique characteristics that are not found in products that are produced in large volumes. As is common knowledge, the secret of these sweets is in the "punto" (point) and, although confectioners speak of the point as some metaphysical and mysterious virtue, it is simply the density that the liquid or paste must have at the moment of suspending its cooking.
Mexican confectioners pride themselves on working "the old-fashioned way" and, according to them, they cultivate an "art" by offering their consumers authentic products so that the buyer can be sure of what he or she is acquiring. Some examples of these sweets are suspiros, besos de muyer, huevos reales, muéganos, picones, alegrías, alegrías, morelianas, camotes, pirulís, cocadas, pepitorias, crystallized fruits (such as calabacetes and acitrones). These and other typical Mexican sweets not only refuse to disappear but are gaining more and more followers among the diners of the best restaurants. In Mexico, confit has been used for many years as a method of food preservation, but in the field of regional confectionery, it has not yet surpassed the artisanal level.
A sweet for every occasion
Sweets find their best place in special celebrations and, as they are generally enjoyed at the end of a meal, their consumption is more sentimental and ritualistic than nutritional. For example, for the coronation of Agustín de Iturbide (consummator of the Mexican independence and creator of the colored flag), the convents turned to elaborate sweets with the colors of the Trigarantes ("Mexican tricolor") and in the chapter house of the Cathedral, a table with white lace tablecloths was set up with all kinds of handmade sweets.
Moreover, the celebrations of the centenary of independence result, in all aspects, in the idea of nationalism and patriotic love, since the candies reflect the colors of the country.
Some sweets represent the federation of each entity Arrayanes from Jalisco, tuna cheese from San Luis Potosí, ates y cueritos de membrillo, guava and perón from Morelia, chongos from Zamora, cajeta from Celaya, garapiñadas (caramelized nuts) from Sonora, palanquetas from Morelos, cocadas from Colima, evaporated bananas and chocolate from Tabasco, Oaxaca or Chiapas, nanche from Yucatán, alegrías from Mexico City.
The candy participates not only in the daily joy but also in the national mourning: the Catholic calendar marks November 2 as the commemoration of the faithful departed and the Mexican confectionery turns it into a day of celebration when the amaranth or sugar skulls make their appearance, made in very different sizes and highlighting the name of the deceased or beloved friend. The confectioner who makes them has to design and build his own clay molds that constitute the soul of the skull since its composition is simply sugar.
Christmas is fertile for the proliferation of sweets. It is the time of posadas and snacks, the popular confectionery produces azucarillos, lagrimitas, botellitas, among others, which comprise a popular craft unique in its kind and sometimes little appreciated by today's Mexicans. All these Mexican confections speak for themselves of the immense creativity, taste, and gluttony of the Mexican people.
Sweets in culture
To help retake and strengthen the values of culture, since it constitutes a wide range of traditions, surely none has remained more faithful to its original expression than our food. The preservation of traditions is a task of common interest in which all of us who, in some way, feel linked to the history of Mexico, should strive.
Food habits and customs are conceptualized as acts learned by human beings, including in their culture, which become patterns or routines of behavior and are reinforced by repetition. Values and attitudes form the framework within which the social group develops its eating habits. Another conception is that of a set of practices of selection, conservation, preparation, and consumption, acquired by trial and error mechanisms over many generations, which are strongly conditioned by the availability of food, which can be analyzed at various levels: the household, the community, the region, the country, among others. The physical and cultural availabilities are nothing more than the concept that each culture has of the acceptability of food. With or without these bases, each human group classifies products as edible, harmful, or unacceptable.
For all these reasons, food habits and customs have always deserved special consideration by nutritionists. There are certain habits that need to be changed, but there are also others that need to be reinforced. It is true that the national food culture has some defects but, at the same time, it has many qualities that should be encouraged. It is urgent to prestige autochthonous foods and patterns that are not only more beneficial to health than many European schemes, but also represent better alternatives from the economic, social and ecological point of view since they have been correctly selected by the population itself throughout centuries of daily experience.
Thus, the dietary norms of indigenous population groups, generally adopted for physiological needs, are the fruit of a great experience accumulated over centuries by millions of men. Attempting to modify these norms either by changing them completely or by substituting foods without a perfect knowledge of the role played by each one, often leads to dangerous mistakes.
Human beings do not ingest isolated nutrients, they consume food. When selecting, preparing, and eating them, they do not consider complicated physiological reflections but follow the impulses dictated by their tastes, moods, habits, and customs. Habits and customs exist as satisfiers of social needs, even when these are capricious. They are a response of ecological, ethnological, anthropological, sociological, and even linguistic nature.
In the case of the State of Tabasco, these traditions have persisted very regionalized and little known, mainly due to the isolation in which the state lived for many years, which, on the other hand, helped to keep its customs alive from pre-Hispanic times to the present day.
Physical availability, on the other hand, is also a very complex factor. The type and quantity of food produced in a region depend on geographical conditions (topography, soil quality, rainfall and, in general, water availability, climate, season), economic conditions (subsistence or market economy, regional purchasing power, credits, subsidies, taxes, etc.), technological conditions (seeds, species, mechanization, pesticides, fertilizers, transport facilities, storage and conservation of products) and social conditions (land tenure, education). The first are the natural resources contained in the environment in which each human group lives, and the others, which influence the material conditions of life, include the contacts that the group has with other human conglomerates and which serve to modify its technological resources and its economic situation.
In Mexico, there is a great variety of resources that can be used for food production. These resources have the advantage of not requiring care and inputs for their agricultural development, their production is normally seasonal and corresponds to one or two seasons per year. These resources lay the foundations in the economic order because their production is associated with certain groups of the population that make it their livelihood and also have restricted fresh marketing because of the perishability of its fruits. However, it presents problems of high concentration of production at harvest time, a high level of perishability, and a poor marketing system.
Among the reasons for studying and optimizing the production of this type of food are the following: obtaining consistent products of satisfactory hygienic quality at the rural level in the area where they are produced, industrialization and marketing outside the producing region, and the development of new products based on traditional foods of rural origin.
One of the proposals for rescuing traditional food technology is to propose alternatives for fruit conservation in the region by developing new technology for the conservation of bulk products, which has been called combined factors, with the following characteristics. It should have low costs and reduced energy consumption, extend post-harvest shelf life without the need for refrigeration, help take advantage of underutilized resources, increase the availability of food production, thus increasing the added value of the products, and open up new export possibilities.
As part of the rescue that has been carried out in the state of Tabasco, the following are products traditionally marketed in the four regions that make up the state: La Chontalpa, La Sierra, Los Ríos and Centro, with 17 counties (Balancán, Cárdenas, Centla, Centro, Comalcalco, Cunduacan, Emiliano Zapata, Hurmanguillo, Jalapa, Jalpa de Méndez, Jonuta, Macuspana, Nacajuca, Paraíso, Tacotalpa, Teapa and Tenosique). It should be clarified that these are a representative sample; in no case do they constitute the totality of the existing ones.
Based on the datasheets prepared for each foodstuff rescued or investigated, the products were ordered for study according to the technology used during processing, where most of them converge in the following: dehydrated, acidified, tanned, sweetened, and fermented.
The most frequently found products are sweetened products. The sweets are generally named according to the fruits used in their preparation: cocoa heart, pumpkin, sweet potato, cuijinicuil or jinicuil cotton, guapaque, guava, currant, guanabana candy, jagua, jujo, cherry lime, mango, mamey de Santo Domingo, peach, nanche, sour orange, oreja de mico, papaya, pataste, pineapple nougat, banana, watermelon, siricote, tamarind, canned tornolargo (grapefruit), yucca, zapote or mamey colorado, milk.
It is worth mentioning that in the town of Jalapa, Tabasco, especially in the town of Jahuacapa, artisanal candy technology is a source of work. The representative sweets made in this place are: sweet potato with pineapple, soursop, dulce de leche, coconut nougat (and other seasonal fruits), watermelon peel, pumpkin, papaya, and are found in different presentations, from jams to nougat and crystallized. This technology has developed the integral use of the region's resources, for example, the corn leaf, called "joloche", is used to wrap the sweets in order to take advantage of the environment's resources, giving them a typical presentation and in some way lowering production costs, since no investment is made in special packaging.
Among the fermented products, pozol is mentioned, which is a drink that accompanies sweets and is also consumed with salt and chops. This food can be consumed fresh or fermented, acquiring the advantage, when fermented, that the pozol dough is preserved without refrigeration in tropical conditions in the populations where it is regularly consumed. On the other hand, there is an improvement in nutritional properties since it is a way of introducing calcium into the diet and, particularly, increasing the contribution of total nitrogen, some vitamins, and amino acids due to the development of certain microorganisms (bacteria, yeasts, and molds) during fermentation. It is worth mentioning that the elaboration of indigenous fermented beverages is based on ancient recipes, which have been transmitted from generation to generation. It was found that corn is used as the base for their preparation and the flavor can be varied by adding rice, cocoa, sweet potato, coconut, pataste, or mamey seed.
Another of the food technologies rescued is the tanning of liquor, the most representative element being sugarcane alcohol, and the products processed are the following: plum, currant, jagua, jobo, jondura mango, mamey de Santo Domingo, and nance or nanche.
With respect to dehydration technology, this operation is carried out using the sun's energy directly, on a comal or in an oven. The products found are: alfajor or chinopote or dulce de pinol, panecillo de yuca, torta de cuijunucual, corn tortilla, turulete and evaporated plantain. This last product can be found in supermarkets, the others are obtained in the street trade both in the municipalities and in the state capital.
The last technology is called acidified, which uses mainly vinegar; this is where the lowest number of products was found: amashito chili, purple chives, and cuijuinicual.
With all of the above, it is possible to take advantage of fruit production of low commercial value to develop technologies in accordance with the humid tropics, while at the same time rescuing Tabasco's traditions and culture.
By Dora Centurión and Judith Espinosa Moreno