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Wine isn’t quite so popular – in making and consuming it – in the Yucatán peninsula, in large part because the climate conditions make it hard to grow the grapes. So today we take a break from Wine Wednesday to talk about another drink of the Yucatán, and, no, it isn’t tequila or rum, although both are highly popular here as they are in the rest of Mexico. Rather, it’s Xtabentún, a liqueur that is steeped in history and legend.
While today the drink is a honey and anise liqueur, it wasn’t always that way. Xtabentún (which is pronounced “shtab-en-TOON”) began with the Mayans, who used the psychotropic honey from the xtabentún morning glory flower and fermented it, along with balché tree bark, to make a mead. Not surprisingly, it was often consumed during ceremonial rituals.
The drink changed after the Spaniards conquered the area. Around 1550, they removed the tree bark as an ingredient and introduced the anise. The liqueur later nearly disappeared due to the disappearance of the key ingredient: the morning glory flower. Fortunately for the liqueur, a distillery in Mérida – home to our Yucatán, Mexico cooking vacation – revived the drink and named it xtabentún in honor of the Mayan liqueur. Today, its made with a fermented honey – that isn’t psychotropic – as well as white rum and anise.
Due to its inherent sweet flavor, the liqueur can be enjoyed alone, or served with ice and a bit of honey. I like it with a garnish of citrus and even fresh herbs (taragon is one that works well with it, or mint). The people of the Yucatán also like to add it to their coffee and sip it at the end of a meal.
Experience this historical drink for yourself during a Yucatan culinary vacation, in which you’ll get to tour the factory where it, as well as white rum, is made!
By Liz Hall
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