Many of Mexico’s holiday dishes are inspired combinations of seasonally available ingredients. Just as the chiles en nogada prepared for Independence Day celebrations combine the best of the late summer harvest, ponche navideño, the traditional Christmas punch, uses the fruit of late fall. Various combinations of apples, pears, tamarind, and tejocote (hawthorne fruit) come together in a drink flavored with sugar cane and cinnamon, and made irresistibly fragrant by the presence of guavas.
Unlike some of the other fruit in ponche navideño, guava is available more than once a year, but it is during the Christmas season that its heady aroma announces its presence throughout the market. When we lived in Oaxaca, we had a guava tree that bloomed and produced fruit a couple of times a year, emitting a sweet, sensual scent that our neighbor called “muy romantic” — and I would have to agree with her.
The guava is the fruit of a tropical tree (Psidium guajava) that originated in an area extending from Southern Mexico through Central America. The small, prolific evergreen (the tree is called guayabo in Spanish, and its fruit guayaba) was brought from the New World to the East Indies by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers, and later to the U.S. states of Florida and Hawaii. The small, round or oval fruit, about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, has a yellow to pinkish-yellow skin and pulp ranging in color from yellow to pink to nearly red.
Guavas are grown in several states in Mexico, notably Michoacan, which has become the country’s leading producer, overtaking Aguascalientes with its annual December Guava Fair in Calvillo. Demand for guava both nationally and internationally has grown in recent years, and Mexico is now second only to India in worldwide guava production.
Although guavas, including their edible seeds, can be eaten out of hand, they are usually preferred seeded. In Mexico, the seeds are often scooped from the center, leaving the guava shells, or casco de guayaba, to be stewed and served as a dessert. Guavas are cooked whole in ponche navideño, although in licuados and aguas, the seeds are either scooped or strained out.
Guavas are found in countless forms in Mexican cuisine, including drinks, fruit ices, flan and other desserts, jams and jellies, candy, fruit paste, and in savory dishes with pork and chicken. They are also processed and canned, both whole and as nectar and baby food.
Indigenous Mexican medicine has long used guava in the treatment of diarrhea and dysentery. The Tesoro de Herbolaria Casera recommends boiling guava leaves to make a decoction that should be taken throughout the day until the illness passes. This is because guava contains astringents that are alkaline and have antibiotic and disinfectant properties that suppress microbial growth.
Other health benefits of guava include high fiber content, as well as an abundance of potassium, carotenoids, folate, copper and manganese. It is also high in vitamins A and C, with five times the vitamin C as oranges, as well as a range of B vitamins. It is used in weight management and to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Because they ripen quickly, guavas are usually picked while slightly green, and are often still firm when they arrive at the market. Look for fruit that is free of soft spots. Guavas ripen at normal room temperature, and should be either used or refrigerated when they give to light pressure. If refrigerating, use them within two days. Guavas can be frozen by slicing or cutting them in half and scooping out the seeds, and covering them with a light simple syrup. Frozen this way, they will last up to a year. I have seen guavas in U.S. markets that have been packed and frozen whole, for use in ponche navideño, as well as Goya brand frozen guava pulp. Due to increased interest in ethnic foods, canned guavas are widely available north of the border, as are guava nectar, jelly and jam.
No matter where you live, add a taste of the tropics to your holiday menus with any of these guava recipes. If fresh or frozen guavas are unavailable, try substituting canned guava or using a little guava nectar, always checking labels for added sugar and adjusting amounts according to taste.
- Mexican holiday punch: Ponche navideño
- Mexican guava water: Agua de guayaba
- Mexican guava vinaigrette: Vinagreta de guayaba
- Mexican guava glazed chicken: Pollo con salsa de guayaba
- Mexican pork tenderloin with guavas: Escalopas de cerdo con guayabas
- Mexican guava pie: Pay de guayaba
- Mexican cheese and guava flan: Flan de queso y guayaba