The Fight to Save Mexico’s Heirloom Corn

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Mexican Corn
Taco María Chef Carlos Salgado’s blue corn tortillas made from the conico azul varietal. (Photo by Anne Watson Photography)

Carlos Salgado
Chef Carlos Salgado

“Sin maíz, no hay país” translates to ”Without corn, there is no country,” and it has become the battle cry for the movement to keep genetically modified corn out of Mexico. Unlike the U.S., where the majority of our corn goes toward the production of ethanol and animal feed, it’s important to understand that, culturally, Mexicans have a very different relationship with corn. It’s a way of life.

This summer, a federal court overturned a two-year-old ban that had prevented biotech companies from planting their genetically modified corn in Mexico. The earlier ruling had been in place to prevent GMOs from contaminating the 60 varietals of indigenous, heirloom corn that currently remain, each with its own distinctive flavor, aromatic and textural properties.

“As a chef, there are very few times in your life when you get to experience an ingredient that’s so perfect. Not only is it agriculturally more responsible, but visually, it’s infinitely more beautiful. The flavor and the aroma were profoundly better than anything we’d ever tasted before.”—Carlos Salgado for ChefsFeed

A collective of chefs who call themselves the Colectivo Mexicano de Cocina have rallied in support of this worthy cause, to honor and preserve not only the diversity of these varietals, but also their long-standing cultural and culinary traditions. Here at home, Carlos is leading the international effort, uniting chefs and working to create a global market for specialty corn.

With the maize that he gets from Masienda distributor Jorge Gavienda, Carlos nixtamalizes several varieties (conico azul, chalqueño and bolita) into masa for both Taco María and Ray Garcia’s Broken Spanish and Petty Cash. His hope is that the international demand for Mexican heirloom corn will one day be such that these small-scale farmers will be properly recognized for upholding these long-standing cultural traditions and practices for their country.

You can read Chef Carlos Salgado’s manifesto on heirloom corn here, and sign up to support Colectivo Mexicano de Cocina here.

Mole de Pollo Taco
Carlos’ Mole de Pollo Taco made from chalqueño. (Anne Watson Photography)
Camaron Taco
A conico azul taco topped with shrimp. (Anne Watson Photography)