Chaya is a type of bush plant unique to the Yucatán. The leaves of the plant are edible and have long been used by the Mayan natives for cuisine and healing purposes.
The plant is touted for its medicinal benefits and is believed to help improve blood circulation, lower cholesterol levels, help with arthritis, and remedy colds and other ailments.
The plant itself is also relatively high in fiber, protein, potassium, calcium, and other essential vitamins.
When going out to eat in Yucatán, you'll be able to find this spinach-like plant cooked up in popular dishes including omelets, empanadas, and soups.
Once the warmer months settle throughout the region, chaya becomes the headliner in the region's refreshing agua de chaya drink.
It’s important to note that when in its raw state, the leaves are actually toxic.
They contain a glucoside that releases cyanide. However, if the leaves are soaked in an acidic vinegar water mixture, this toxicity becomes neutralized.
Additionally, using the leaves in a very small amount limits the toxicity as well.
Often, you’ll find agua de chaya infused with other acidic ingredients including lemon, lime, pineapple, or orange. If you find yourself in the Yucatan peninsula, be sure to sip on this unique drink to get a literal taste of Yucatecan flavor.
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