Ark of taste
Back to the archive >

Dahlias are an annual, flowery plant with tuberous roots. They are of Mesoamerican origin, with 41 species native to Mexico. Their original Nahuatl name, acocoxochitl, comes from the words a-ti (water), coco-tli (tube) and xochitl (flower), for a word meaning ‘flower of hollow stems with water.’ Most wild species are in central Mexico, and they were historically grown in the area of what is today Mexico City, in what was the capital of the Aztec empire. The plant has been part of Mexican culture since pre-Columbian (and even pre-Aztec) times, with ornamental, nutritional, medicinal and ceremonial uses. Native people used the plant as a tonic diuretic to treat cough, against colic and to reduce fever. The plants are better known as ornamentals, with dahlias of different sizes, shapes and colors often being grown from tubers imported from The Netherlands. Dahlias grown for human consumption are instead generally grown from starting and transplanting collected seeds. Seeds are sown from February to July in soil rich in organic matter. They are transplanted after about three weeks into areas with full sun. When the plants reach a height of 30 cm, soil should be added to the base of the plants to encourage the development of tuberous roots. After about twelve weeks, dahlias will bloom for four to six weeks. Both the tuberous roots and flowers can be used as foods. Dahlia tubers may be eaten either raw or cooked. To cook with tubers, they should be boiled and their skin removed. They may then be used in any recipe like other tubers (such as potatoes or sweet potatoes). Their cooking water can be reserved to use to make teas, coffees, or chocolate or fruit drinks. The tubers’ delicate taste is described as a mixture of celery, artichoke and jicama. The tubers have the medicinal property of reducing glucose levels by producing inulin. The petals should be washed before being consumed, and can be eaten raw or cooked in both sweet and savory dishes. Traditional dishes include tuber soup, fried tubers, dahlia tuber atole, fish with dahlia tubers and petals, salad with dahlia petals and dahlia petal palanquetas. Today, the flowers, but not the tuberous roots, can be found for sale on the market. The tuberous roots are generally produced for self or family consumption, and grown with organic methods so that they will be considered clean and safe to eat. Recently, traditional Mexican dahlia recipes have started to be rediscovered, raising awareness of this native food’s importance to history and culture.

Back to the archive >