Ayocote (Phaseolus coccineus leiosepalus), also known as ayeócotl in the native náhuatl language, is a climbing legume, with pre-Hispanic origins. It is grown by all indigenous communities of the Mexican plateau, even at over 2,000 meters above sea level. Due to its widespread presence, even in very different climate conditions, Ayocotes have developed an ample genetic variety: Mexico’s genetic resource bank preserves over 800 different known varieties.
The shape of Ayocotes is very similar to that of Phaseolus Vulgaris (common bean), yet the seeds are generally slightly bigger, depending on the variety. For example, in the colder areas the seeds are actually a bit smaller and premature. Ayocotes’ pods often contain seeds of many different colors (from black, to coffee-colored-shades, to purple, to white and yellow), or seeds with multiple-color-pigmentation.
Just as with squash seeds, Ayocote seeds belong to the group of the oldest domesticated plants of Mesoamerica. According to some researchers, Ayocote beans were in fact domesticated in the Tehucán Valley between 4000 BC and 2000 BC.
Along with Chilacayote, also known as black seed squash (Cucurbita ficifolia), Ayocotes are one of the crops used in the Milpa agricultural system, whereby corn, squash and beans are grown in the same field at the same time. Its function is to increase levels of nitrogen in the ground, as to compensate for the amounts consumed by squash and corn.
Ayocotes can be found in many different dishes in the local gastronomy: first and foremost, in a bean soup, while the root (known as cimate from címatl in the native náhuatl language) is used as seasoning in Mexican cuisine.
Ayocotes contain 1.2% of a toxic lectin (phytohaemagglutinin), it is therefore advisable to cook it thoroughly before consumption.
Image: © Marco Del Comune & Oliver Migliore