This week I went on a really cool and informative tour where I learned a ton about the native fruits and vegetables of Mexico.
I love food and one of the things I’m really passionate about here in Mexico is the produce. I feel so lucky to be able to go to the market every week and buy from local farmers, eat fruit that is non-GMO (which are illegal in Mexico for now!) and packed with flavor.
The tour was given by local guide Ubish from Frutas y Verduras (fruits and vegetables in Spanish). Ubish is a native to Mexico City and was incredibly knowledgeable about markets around the city and facts about foods that were eaten by the Aztecs well before the Spanish arrived.
We tasted some seriously good food and I even discovered some fruits and vegetables that I’ve never eaten before. It would be perfect for vegans and vegetarians who maybe think that food in Mexico City isn’t for them.
Fruits and Vegetables of Mexico
I hope this little guide to fruits and vegetables in Mexico helps you as you explore local markets around the country. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most common and delicious! If I’m missing any that you absolutely love, let us know in the comments! And if you’re ever in Mexico City, I highly recommend checking out the tianguis tour with Frutas y Verduras.
You may know this fruit by its English name, custard apple. I actually only tried this fruit for the first time recently. It has a green, almost dragon-like skin on the outside and a soft, sweet texture on the inside. It’s thought that the chirimoya originally came from South America, but it has been growing in Mexico for long enough that it can be found in almost every tianguis and grocery store when it’s in season.
There are three main varieties that you’ll find around Mexico. The most common one that you’ll see is pear-shaped, light green, and has a smooth outer skin. There is also one that looks exactly the same but is an off-white color. The third and tastiest, in my opinion, is the spiky looking chayote.
To prepare this, you want to cook it. The way that I’ve always had it is that it is boiled whole. Once it’s done cooking, the skin is peeled off and then it’s cut into cubes and served with toppings of cheese, mayo, lime, and chili. You can also mash it or roast it similar to the way you would a squash or pumpkin. The texture is very similar.
Another fruit native to Mexico, although you probably already knew that. The most common variety is the Hass avocado, which is usually what you see in the U.S. They’re relatively large and they turn darker green or brown on the skin when they are ripe. The inside should be soft and moosey.
The other type of avocado that you’ll see around Mexico is the criollo. They have a smooth skin and are not quite as moosey in texture, but they are found during the winter months when Hass avocados don’t grow as well.
You’ll see this flat cactus being sold all over the country. They will always shuck the needles off of it for you. You can then purchase it whole or have it cut up into slices for easiest cooking.
This recipe from Mexico in my Kitchen is a great resource for figuring out how to cook them. The most common way you’ll see it around the country is as a cold salad served on top of tacos or alongside meat dishes. It’s usually boiled briefly to make it soft and then mixed with raw onion, chili, and tomatoes. It’s the perfect acidic addition to a rich meat dish.
Nope, not the fish. Tuna is the Spanish name for the prickly pear. The most popular tuna sold around Mexico City is the green one. You know it’s ripe when it goes almost completely yellow. It’s actually called the white tuna, not green because when it’s perfectly ripe, it’s not green inside.
The other types that you will see are pink tunas. Interestingly, another fruit that you probably didn’t know came from this region of the world is also a type of tuna – dragonfruit!
You may have thought that dragonfruit is from Asia, but it was actually brought there much later. It’s actually a cactus fruit- a fact I recently learned and thought was incredibly interesting.
Corn is a staple in the Mexican diet and it added to almost everything. You’ll find it most often in tortillas, but you’ll see people selling elote and esquite on street corners all over Mexico.
Do your best to look for corn that is native to Mexico rather than yellow sweet corn which is what most people use now to make maiz for tortillas. The most common corn that is native to Mexico has large kernels and is almost a white color rather than yellow. You’ll also find purple and blue corn. One of the best places to try native corns, besides at weekly tianguis markets, is in Oaxaca.
Did you know tomatoes actually came from Mexico? In the Nahuatl language, which was used by the Aztecs, they called it tomatl which literally meant swelling fruit (sometimes translated simply as fat fruit!).
It was like I had never tasted a tomato before coming to Mexico. I’ve tried them in Italy too, and I promise, there’s no comparison. The flavor of a Roma-style tomato in Mexico is simply out of this world. Be sure to pick up a few fresh ones from the local market and make a salsa with it!
The Guanabana, which is called soursop in English, looks similar to the Chirimoya, but is usually larger and the skin is much firmer and it is indeed much sourer. It’s worth trying and from what I’ve read has some seriously powerful healing powers!
My favorite fruit on this list, mamey is absolutely worth trying when you come to Mexico. I’ve never seen it anywhere else (although in addition to being native to Mexico, it is also native to Cuba and Costa Rica). It’s part of the sapote family, but it doesn’t get better than the mamey in my opinion.
It’s brown on the outside and looks a bit like a big kiwi, but the skin is much tougher. The inside is orange and tastes somewhere between a sweet potato, caramel, candy, and joy. It’s really hard to describe because nothing tastes quite like a mamey.
The texture is sort of like a cooked sweet potato, but you eat the fruit completely raw. You’ll see it cut open at market stalls around Mexico. This is how you know it’s ripe. Most people will be happy to offer you a sample taste, especially at a tianguis (they’re less inclined to do this at covered markets where foot traffic is less or you don’t seem like you’re going to buy).
The seed inside is pretty large and while it’s not edible, the oils from the seed have been used for centuries by people in Mexico. You’ll find it in the Oaxacan drink, tejate. You may even find it in hair or skin products around the country. It smells delicious.
Other Types of Sapote
There are tons of other types of sapotes that you’ll see around Mexico including black sapotes, white sapotes, and the chico sapote (sometimes called Sapodilla). They are seasonal fruits and the most common place I’ve seen them is actually in ice cream or nieve (like a sorbet made with water instead of milk).
The white sapote is packed with flavor. It looks like a mamey from the outside, but is almost white on the inside. They’ve mostly grown in the Yucatan region thanks to the heat and humidity there. I highly recommend trying it if you’re close to the source.
I only recently discovered the name of these little plum-like fruits. According to Google, they’re actually members of the cashew family, which makes sense because the seed inside these little guys is HUGE.
The best way to eat them is to literally pop it into your mouth and eat the skin and meat, then spit the seed out. If you feel like being a bit more delicate, you can eat it like you would a stone fruit or apple. The texture is very strange, almost fatty. It coats your teeth a bit as you eat it, but the taste when it’s ripe is really sweet and delicious. It will turn a deep red when it is ripe (green ones will be very bitter).
This popular corn fungus (called corn smut in English lolz) is found all over the country and is perfect inside a quesadilla. You’ll find it already cooked and canned in grocery stores all over the country. If you head to a market, it will be fresh and you’ll have to cook it yourself. Don’t let that deter you, it’s super simple to cook and is much healthier than the canned versions.
The thing I find so interesting about huitlacoche is that it’s classed as a sort of plague in the United States. It happens to corn here and farmers hate it. They have to throw those corn away. Whereas here in Mexico, it’s sold across the country and the season for huitlacoche is highly anticipated. In some parts of the country, you may see it being called cuitlacoche.
I was told recently on my tour with Frutas y Verduras, that some of the chilis that we think are native to Mexico actually aren’t.
For instance, Habaneros (not habañeros), are actually from Cuba. They didn’t like them there so they exported them to Mexico from, you guessed it, Havana. Hence the name.
A ton of others have been growing in the country for centuries. There’s evidence of chilis being used in food dating back as far as 6500BC! The most popular varieties that you’ll spot everywhere in Mexico are serrano, jalapeño, poblano, and big sweet bell peppers. Of course, chipotle are everywhere too, a dried chili that dates back to Aztec times.
Learn Even More About the Fruits and Vegetables of Mexico
If you’re not based in Mexico City or simply aren’t big on tours, I highly recommend checking out the book Frutas y Verduras. The tour company’s owner, Margret, wrote this seriously detailed ebook on all you need to know about fruits and vegetables in Mexico. From where to buy them to how to clean them to how to cook and eat them. It’s truly one of the most comprehensive books in English about produce in Mexico and ever since I bought it the other day, I’ve been referencing it when I cook or when I get back from the market having seen something totally new-to-me.
The book is a seriously reasonable $14.99. It’s packed with so much detail, photos, and interactive popups that you will definitely get your money’s worth.