How Tequesquite Transforms Mexican Dishes from Good to 'Muy Delicioso'!
Explore the power of tequesquite, a hidden star in traditional Mexican cuisine. This 'miraculous stone', integral since pre-Hispanic times, imparts unique textures and flavors, making Mexican gastronomy truly distinctive.
A journey through the heritage of Mexican cuisine introduces one to a world of rich flavors, vibrant colors, and a mysterious element, tequesquite. This element, like a hidden star, has been a crucial influence in the evolution of Mexican gastronomy. Despite being overlooked by many, the secret of tequesquite's power and its historical contribution to Mexican food culture is gradually being unveiled.
What is Tequesquite?
Tequesquite, an ingredient native to Mexico, has been used since pre-Hispanic times. It manifests as lumpy deposits formed from the frothy layers on the surfaces of lakes and lagoons, especially in the highland regions. As these foamy lumps drift to the shore, they solidify over time, earning various names such as espumilla, confitillo, cascarilla, and polvillo. Despite its humble appearance, the impact of tequesquite on traditional Mexican cuisine has been profound and indispensable.
While traditional cooks in villages knew how to harness the culinary benefits of tequesquite, the exact reason behind its effectiveness remained a mystery until recently. Modern science has helped to unravel this mystery, revealing that tequesquite comprises two common yet crucial ingredients – saltpeter (potassium nitrate) and sodium bicarbonate. The combination of these elements gives tequesquite its unique qualities, turning this ordinary-looking pebble into a "miraculous stone" in the realm of gastronomy.
Tequesquite in the Kitchen
While tequesquite was originally employed as a basic cooking ingredient, its use has evolved, branching out into various culinary processes. It became renowned, most notably, as a fermentation agent in the preparation of dough for tamales and fritters, imparting a soft, spongy texture to the dishes. The chemical composition of tequesquite has been beneficial in enhancing the natural color of vegetables like quelites and nopales, while also eliminating the slimy texture of the latter.
Apart from its roles in enhancing texture and color, tequesquite was also used as a substitute for salt, providing a unique flavor profile to dishes. Its efficacy in softening foods, such as beans and broad beans, further cemented its status in the traditional Mexican kitchen. Historically, it was used as an alternative to lime in the nixtamalization process, a method for treating corn to make it more digestible and nutritious.
How to Use Tequesquite
Tequesquite is a natural mineral and does not need to be processed. It can be used in its raw form. However, it is often ground into a powder for easier use. Tequesquite can be used in a variety of dishes, including:
- Tamales: Tequesquite is added to the masa for tamales to make it more spongy and flavorful. To use tequesquite in tamales, simply add 1 teaspoon of tequesquite powder to every 2 cups of masa.
- Beans: Tequesquite can be added to beans to make them more tender and digestible. To use tequesquite in beans, simply add 1 teaspoon of tequesquite powder to every 1 cup of beans.
- Elotes: Esquites are a Mexican snack made with corn, lime, and chili powder. Tequesquite can be added to esquites to give them a salty, mineral flavor. To use tequesquite in esquites, simply add 1 teaspoon of tequesquite powder to every 2 cups of cooked corn.
- Soaking vegetables: Tequesquite can be added to water to soak vegetables, such as nopales and quelites. This helps to remove the bitterness from the vegetables and preserve their natural color. To soak vegetables in tequesquite, simply add 1 teaspoon of tequesquite powder to every 2 cups of water.
Tequesquite is a natural mineral and is not regulated by the FDA. As a result, it is not always easy to find tequesquite in stores. However, it is becoming more widely available in recent years. You can find tequesquite in some Mexican grocery stores, health food stores, and online.
Long before the Spanish conquest, tequesquite had established itself as an essential commodity. It was sold in large quantities in both stone and ground forms, with its main commercial center in Iztapalapa. Despite modern cooking trends and new culinary innovations, the relevance of tequesquite has not diminished. Today, the spongy, flavorful tamales and the large, soft, sun-yellow grains of boiled corn sold in the streets of Mexico City and towns of the State of Mexico owe their delightful quality to this "miraculous stone."
Those unfamiliar with tequesquite might simply enjoy Mexican cuisine without realizing the critical role this ingredient plays. However, those who have been introduced to its magic, know that the tequesquite's power lies in its versatility, the intriguing mystery surrounding it, and the rich historical tradition it embodies.
In-Text Citation: Rosita Sánchez, Rosita and Estado de México. Conversación En La Cocina, Gastronomía Mexiquense. 1st ed., Mexico, Estado de México, 2006.