San Andrés Calpan (Mexico) (AFP)

Climate change and especially the import of hybrid varieties threaten endemic fruits and vegetables traditionally used in Mexican cooking. But peasants and chefs are mobilizing to defend the "knowledge and flavors" of this world famous gastronomy.

In Calpan, at the foot of the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes, which make their snow cap rise above the clouds, in the state of Puebla (center), Asuncion Diaz runs its plantations of "poblanos", a local variety of green pepper.

"The one we find most often today is not pepper + poblano +." New hybrid seeds have arrived, and the tradition of the local pepper, that of our ancestors, is lost, "laments the farmer.

The "poblano" pepper is used in the confection of several specialties of Mexican gastronomy, whose wide variety and social role have been recognized since 2010 by UNESCO as Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

This rather sweet pepper is used in many ways: dry for the "mole", this typical Mexican sauce, often based on chillies and chocolate; or fresh for "Chile in nogada", an iconic dish of stuffed peppers topped with a nut and cheese sauce, whose colors - green parsley, white cream, red grains of pomegranate - recall the Mexican flag.

- Fruits in danger -

Despite this national symbol, especially enjoyed on the occasion of the Mexican National Day on September 16, hybrid varieties imported from China have gained ground because they give all year round, their culture is less demanding and harvested peppers are larger .

For example, according to the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Mexican network, six out of ten green peppers consumed in Mexico now come from Chinese seeds.

The salvation of his traditional pepper, Asuncion Diaz found in several gourmet restaurants in Mexico City. Among them, the restaurant "Azul" Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, one of the most renowned chefs in Mexico, recognized as the guardian of the culinary tradition.

"The pepper + poblano + is being saved, but the fruits that are used for the stuffing are in danger," laments the chef, who cites several endemic varieties such as apples "panocheras", pears of San Juan, Creole peaches, pink pine nuts ...

All these fruits are small and can appear at first unattractive, but their softness and consistency make the difference, says the chef.

"One of the reasons that these fruits have become obsolete is their size, they are very small and people want a fruit + ideal +, big and bright.The market has put us in this dynamic, while some fruits are naturally small, "he argues.

- Volcano without snow -

Besides the standardization of varieties, climate change is also doing its work.

64-year-old Hilda Cruz, head of the "Saveurs de la campagne" cooperative in Calpan, refers to her own experience in telling the story of the effects of climate change in this region at an altitude of 2,500 meters.

"Child, I have never seen the volcano Popocatépelt without snow.I was 35 years old when I saw it like that for the first time, then I started crying," says the sexagenarian, while climate change adds to more intense volcanic activity in recent years.

The cooperative managed by Hilda federates peasants so that they can sell their products directly and at fair prices to recognized restaurants. In this way, she hopes to save the "know-how" and encourage the preservation of local "flavors".

Because for her, the traditional "poblano" pepper must be "crunchy and sweet-bitter", nothing to do with the hybrid pepper with the "grassy" taste.

According to WWF Mexico, other local productions are threatened, including several varieties of beans - Mexico is home to about 150. The organization has recently launched a national campaign to educate Mexicans about the need to protect "the biodiversity of our gastronomy "and to" rediscover the forgotten varieties ".

© 2019 AFP