Xtabentún Marks the Spot

This Mayan liqueur has more than one way to give you a buzz
Roger Morris


Turbina corymbosa is a flowering vine that grows in Central America and is related to the morning glory that climbs up cornstalks and garden fences throughout the United States. The Mayans of the Yucatan peninsula called the flower “xtabentún” — a much more marketable name — and mixed anise with honey made by bees feeding on the horn-shaped flowers to make a rudimentary liqueur that they also called Xtabentún.

But that was not the only way the Mayans got their buzz on.

Once the bees had buzzed off, the natives chewed the Xtabentún seeds, which gave them hallucinogenic visions only recently duplicated by Pixar. So potent were the seeds that the American CIA studied them along with LSD in its famous 1950s mind-bending experiments.

Today you can legally buy Xtabentún the drink (if not the seeds), and the anise/honey combo makes an excellent ingredient in cocktails, as I found out on a recent trip to Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort along the Yuctan coast about 30 minutes west of Cancun.

It is served there at the resort’s Frida restaurant, a highly rated eatery known for chef Daniel Garcia’s elegant fusion Mexican cuisine. Our server told me about Xtabentún when I explained that if I was going to eat fresh and local, I wanted to drink fresh and local as well.

Shortly two cocktails appeared — a margarita and a martini, each containing a dram or two of the magic elixir. Both tasted fabulous. The liqueur, when sipped by itself, is lightly sweet and lightly flavored with anise and honey, so it makes an ideal mixer. My dining companion was offered — and accepted — Xtabentún over a sweet for dessert.

Xtabentún became my drink of choice for my short R&R (restaurants & relaxation) at Grand Velas. Before leaving, I was able to score the cocktail recipes from the bartender with barely a struggle. (The margarita mixes a half ounce of Xtabentún with an ounce of tequila and three ounces of lime juice, while the martini shakes together a half ounce of the liqueur with an ounce of vodka and two ounces of coconut mix.)

There was Xtabentún at Cancun International, on the duty free shelves. As I was traveling with carry-on luggage only, I had to forgo purchase until my return to the U.S. where I found the liqueur for a reasonable $20 a liter, or $35 if I wanted the decorative ceramic bottle. Xtraordinary!