Chaya: The Maya Spinach in Belizean Cuisine

by McNab Editorial Team
Chaya leaves

Throughout the Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Belize, there is a precious green superfood called Chaya, which forms a vital element of Maya-Mestizo cuisine.  In Belize, especially for village dwellers, we learned to eat from the bounty of the land.  It is customary for a Chaya tree to be a part of any home garden.  Fortunately, Chaya practically grows wild, is non-invasive, and grows to be six feet in height. However, there is a specific and proper way it must be prepared. Chaya leaves should never be eaten raw. They contain high levels of a toxin called hydrocyanic acid.  They must be cooked for at least 20 minutes and can then be used in soups, sauces, salsas, and even in salads. By far the most popular way to enjoy Chaya is in “tamalitos” or in eggs. 

Chaya leaves

These tamales de Chaya are served as a Maya-Mestizo delicacy, topped with a meat (in Belize it is Pigtails) and topped with tomato sauce and grated Dutch cheese. As part of a hearty, hearty breakfast, Chaya eggs can be accompanied by fry jacks, tortillas, and refried beans. 

The scientific name for Chaya is Cnidoscolus Acontifolius, and as to its nutritional value, it is believed to provide multiple health benefits. In Mexico, claims are almost miraculous.  The belief is that it improves circulation, lowers cholesterol, provides calcium and iron, and also decongests the lungs.  Actually, the reality is that it is indeed full of minerals and vitamins, three times more beneficial than any other leafy green vegetable as it is high in protein, calcium, and vitamin A. 


Written by Nelita Castillo

Related Articles