Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Xtabentun: Stingless bees, Sacred Quests, & a Slut

Xtabentun is pronounced  
"Ish   tah   ben  TOON"
It is produced in the Yucatan with a rich history drawn from Mayan traditions and myths. It is a sweet liqueur made from honey, fortified with rum or other alcohol,  and flavored with anise.
Anise is a member of the parsley family and its seeds have a licorice flavor. It is a European plant, grown since colonial times, which native Mexicans use to treat gastrointestinal disorders.
Xtabentun may be classified as a mead or an anisette, and is commonly called a "digestivo" for its ability to settle the stomach after a meal.
Because of the rum content, Xtabentún liqueur is sometimes called a "distilled honey beverage", which is misleading, because the honey alcohol is fermented, not distilled.
It has a pale yellow or green color and a creamy anise flavor, with strong honey after tones. It is very pleasant in moderation, with a rich sweetness that precludes overindulgence.

 It may be served cold straight up or over ice and is sipped.  
 Mixed with a shot of tequila and fresh lime, it becomes a "Mayan margarita". 
 You create "Mayan Coffee" by adding a shot to of Xtabentun to that beverage. Some add cinnamon, cocoa, or cream. Mayan coffee can be an elaborate concoction that involves flames, gravy boats, ladles and multiple waiters, done as performance art for tourists, as described here. The glass at left is made with coffee, Xtabentun, brandy, ice cream and ground cinnamon, laced with crystallized sugar and orange. A shot of Kahlua with a shot of Xtabentun is called a "Mayan Kiss".
Before Carlos Aristi began standardizing  production in 1937, Xtabentun was made from a special honey usually produced in September, when bees gathered nectar from the "Xtabentun flower". This type of morning glory is known as the Christmas vine, or in Spanish as "Manto de la Virgen" and in Nahuatl as Ololiúqui; while its botanical name is Turbina corymbosa. In Cuba it blooms from December to February. It produces copious amounts of nectar, that can create a pale, clear, aromatic honey that is highly prized, and considered medicinal. Traditionally, Mayan beekeepers tended
  stingless bees called meliponines in wooden logs, who are nearing extinction in the Yucatan. Their honey was originally used to make Xtabentun liqueur, but they have been replaced by other types of bees. When nylon made the sisal industry obsolete and caused the collapse of Yucatan haciendas, Carlos Aristi began making Xtabentun to save his farm, using honey that was available year round. Production of Xtabentun honey from morning glories and its use in the liqueur died out.
The seeds of the morning glory known as the "Xtabentun flower" or "Ololiúqui" contain LSA, a compound that is similar to LSD, both of which were analyzed by  Albert Hofmann
This is a 16th century statue of Aztec statue of Xochipilli, unearthed from the side of the volcano in the mid 19th century. The statue and base are covered in carvings of sacred and psychoactive plants, which include Ololiúqui (Turbina corymbosa), as well as  mushrooms (Psilocybe aztecorum), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), and  sinicuichi (Heimia salicifolia). Hofmann and others suggest the statue portrays an altered state of spiritual ecstasy, representative of shamanistic practices associated with these plants. The Nahuatl word ololiuhqui means "round thing", and refers to the small, brown, oval seeds of this morning glory. It has been suggested that honey from these flowers also had psychoactive qualities.
Mostly it is an ornamental plant, also known as Rivea corymbosa. The Nahuatl word for the plant means "snake plant" and refers to its climbing abilities. In Mayan "Xtabentun" is said to mean "flower that grows on stone" which refers to its being a vine.

Xtabentun is named for the legend of a "loose" woman named Xtabay (or Xkeban)
The name comes from a Mayan legend about two women from the same village who were born on the same day: Xtabay, who was called Xkeban which means prostitute, and Utz-Colel, who represents a decent honest  woman.
  Xtabay lived a lusty life, giving generously to the poor, compassionately helping anyone and offering  herself freely to men. She was humble in the face of humiliations from the other villagers and cared for abandoned animals. Utz-Colel was prideful, cold, correct, virtuous and haughty, acting superior and helping no one.
When Xtabay died alone, her true nature was revealed by the sweet-smelling flowers that grew on her grave. This enraged Utz-Colel, who said it was a demonic trick to lure men to harm. The sweet nectar gathered from the  white blooms on her grave by stingless bees was said to produce honey with special qualities. Some claimed it was an aphrodisiac. The blossoms were named for her: "Xtabentun flowers", as was the succulent, seductive honey their abundant nectar produced.
 When Utz-Colel died, the entire village attended her funeral. They were surprised by the foul odor escaping from her grave, coming from a spiny cactus called tzacam, whose nauseating aroma repulsed anyone who came near. 
Utz-Colel was beside herself with anger and asked the gods to send her back. She returned to the land of the living disguised as Xtabay, living her life freely, as she never had before.
The legend says she waits in the jungle for an unsuspecting man to come along. She sits by a young green ceiba, the Mayan sacred tree, combing her hair with a cactus, and men who are tempted will never again be seen.

You can find Xtabentun liqueur at Specs and other large liquor stores. It is exported to Germany, Spain, and the United States, with plans for exportation to China. While only eight percent of it is exported, overall sales have increased 40% since 2008. Reports say most of it is bought by foreign visitors, and interest has increased in recent years. This is Jabon de Xtabentun,  which is soap that sells online for 35 pesos.

The Big Apple

This cocktail is served annually at the Taste of NY event
2 oz Hudson Valley Whiskey Manhattan Rye
0.25 oz Xtabentun (Mayan anise liqueur)
1.5 oz  empire apple juice
1.5 oz spiced syrup
0.75 oz fresh lime juice
3 dashes Peychauds bitters
Add all the ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and grate some fresh nutmeg atop.
Then visit my Drunken Spanish post to learn how to toast like a Mexican! 


  1. Testing the comments box which didn't work for Judy today

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