Ancient corn powers whiskey

Farmer Pedro Poot harvesting corn cultivated on his land in Xoy, Yucatan, Mexico. — ©2024 The New York Times Company

OF the 59 varieties of native corn in Mexico, nal t’eel is one of the oldest, having emerged in the Yucatan peninsula some 4,000 years ago. It grows quickly, largely unbothered by heavy rains or drought – so robust that the Mayans called it “rooster corn”.

Like almost all of Mexico’s indigenous corn varieties, nal t’eel in recent decades has faced a seemingly unbeatable threat: high-yield hybrids, developed primarily in the United States and favoured for their efficiency, though rarely their flavour. Fields once dotted with a rainbow of heirloom ears are now awash in wan yellows and whites.

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