You may think you’ve tried all of the Mexican liquors available including the most prominent, agave-derived tequila, plus smoky mezcal and perhaps even some raicilla. However, your experience in Mexican liquors is not complete without the lesser known xtabentun, which is a delectably sweet liquor only produced in the Yucatan Peninsula. Because of its limited distribution, it is not available or known in most parts of Mexico outside of the Yucatan and Quintana Roo.
The Mayan Licor – Xtabentun
Xtabentun originated within the Mayan culture and descends from a liquor once used in ceremonial rituals called balché. It is made from a blend of anise seeds and fermented honey which happens to be created by bees who collect the nectar of the flowers bearing the same name of xtabentun, or the scientific plant name of Turbina corymbosa. In Yucatec Mayan, the plant’s name translates to “vines growing on stone”. The plant, which has beautiful white flowers, thrives in warm temperate climates and grows from the southern regions of Mexico down to Peru.
A Rare Drink
Unlike other Mexican liquors, there are few brands or labels that produce and distribute this unique beverage. The best known brands available on the market are “D’Aristi Xtabentun Crema” and “Vallisoletano Xtabentun”. Even with such limited availability, the word is slowly spreading and interest is growing throughout the country and even internationally. While Xtabentun is typically served straight up, it is also enjoyed over ice blended with honey or coffee. A local treat in the Yucatan is the Maya Margarita, which is prepared with equal parts of Xtabentun and tequila. Xtabentun is also featured in several gourmet dishes and desserts served in the Cancun area.
Local folklore has quite a story to explain the history behind xtabentun. There was a beautiful woman who was filled with love and perhaps a bit too generous with her affection, which won her the name of Xkeban, translating to “bad woman”. Regardless, she had a good heart and devoted her time to helping the sick, the homeless and abandoned animals that required care. She was a modest soul who never spoke poorly about anyone else, even though she was the target of relentless insults and humiliation by many of the town’s people. She went missing for several days from the streets in town, but there was a sweet and delicate aroma surrounding the area of her home. When her neighbors went to Xkeban’s house to investigate, they found her dead body, from which the pleasant fragrance was emerging. She was buried out of moral responsibility by the town’s people, and the following day her tomb was adorned with xtabentuns.