Today, I took a trip to Roosevelt Ave. on the eastern frontier of Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City. The mission expressly revolved around eating food from Mexico. Continue walking east on Roosevelt Ave. towards Corona, and finding a taco will be as easy as finding a plastic surgeon in Seoul.
I walked into a Mexican supermarket called Bravo and strolled right up to the wall of dried herbs and who-knows-what. Which is to say, I-know-what, because an amateur background in food and Spanish – in addition to knowing a fair amount of English – comes in handy when sifting through small packets of albahaca (basil), perejil seco (dried parsley) and tomillo (thyme).
Tequesquite, what are you? Similar to salt but composed of various minerals, it originates from the depths of various lakes in what is now Distrito Federal (Mexico City) and the state of Michoacán. Trivia time: Name two more Mexican states (if you say Texas, I’d like to see your globe). The word stems from the Náhuatl language, whereas tetl means rock and quixquitl signifies gushing or sprouting. During the dry seasons, the beds of salt lakes such as Texcoco would be exposed, thus giving rise to the practical uses of tequesquite.
Aztecs and their descendants predominantly used tequesquite to leaven corn dough, but it was also used to soften corn kernels as well as preserve the green color of nopales, or cacti. On your next trip to Mexico, when you order a tamale or a corunda, its triangular cousin from Michoacán, you might have tequesquite to thank.
Oh, and as for assigning it an English name, there’s a possibility that builder’s or slack lime are contenders. Slightly off-putting for use on supermarket shelves, but I can hear an avant-garde Home Depot calling its name.
Have you ever made tamales? Were you able to find tequesquite?