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Papalo (pipicha/pepiche?) has powerful flavor

July 25th, 2008 · 30 Comments · Food selection, local food

So I said to the guy at the CSA pickup, “Got any cilantro?” and he says, “try this, papalo, it’s sort of like cilantro.” At least I think he said papalo. I wasn’t taking notes, and I should know by now always to take notes if I want to remember anything. He might have said pipicha. Whatever it was, it definitely started with a P, as in potent.

(That’s one of the cool things about Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance; even after a dozen years, they still offer things I haven’t tried before. This P herb was one of them.)

So I took the pretty little herb, with its velvety soft, scalloped leaves. The moment I broke off a couple of leaves to snip over some tomatoes, its powerful smell hit the olfactory. Curious, I thought. Then I ate my tomatoes. Whoa, this is definitely not cilantro. Yes, it has a hint of cilantro’s citrusy flavor, but it also has a penetrating taste that’s as pungent as its aroma, which is to say it overpowered the tomatoes. I tried it in a pasta dish that had lots of onions, and it overpowered the taste there, too, despite the fact I used only one leaf.

It took a little hunting, but I finally found the little herb online. The Cook’s Thesaurus clearly labels it pipicha. The Homesick Texan, however, says its papalo. Brooklynometry says pipicha. I was ready to go with the Texan since she comes from source, more or less, but finally The Gardeners Pantry pointed me to a page at Garden Mosaics, a a program of Cornell University, which is noted for its agricultural and horticultural programs. (Garden Mosaics, incidentally, looks to be a very cool program.) Garden Mosaics says it’s papalo, so I do, too.

Anybody out there use this stuff? I love cilantro, but, whew, papalo is going to take some getting used to!


30 Comments so far ↓

  • Rachel

    I have only had papalo from one place – Taqueria Puebla in Chicago. When they have it, they put it on their cemitas – which are really fantastic. A cemita is a Mexican sandwich on a sesame seed roll, your choice of meat, avocado, chipotles, cheese (this stringy cheese from the region – either Pueblo or Oaxaca. I can’t remember which). Even with all of these really strong flavors, it only takes a little bit of papalo – it’s strong stuff! Here’s a link to a picture (a few posts down on the page):

  • Janet Majure

    Hey, Rachel. Thanks for the link. Great photo. Thanks to you and to the Homesick Texan, I’ve learned more now about Puebla and food from there. Anyone else wanting to know more might want to check out the reports from Married with Dinner and from the CancunCanuck.

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js

    I’m so very curious about this herb. Haven’t seen it before nor tasted it. Looking forward to the dishes you’ll be making with it.

  • Christopher

    Hi Rachel,

    I’m munching on apiece of Papalo right now. I am one of the “Loves It” group. It is a loveit, hate it taste.

    I use to buy it from a small regional farmer here in Santa Barbara County (California) and now grow my own.

    I use it in my fish tacos, New Orleans style red beans and rice and just thrown into a salad with avacado, red onion, tomato, and topped with a walnut oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. Amazing!

    If you think you might like a pungent cross between Cilantro and watercress give it a shot. It doesn’t dry well as I’ve tried and it looses it’s potency. and mildews easily.

  • Janet Majure

    Hey, Christopher. Thanks for stopping by. Not sure I could handle papalo in a salad (in fact, I think I tried), but I did find at least one place I liked it, as I reported here.

  • Gordon J

    Wow, thanks for this sites info on PAPALO.. Papalo was all I had to go on. I didn’t even have the spelling..

  • Janet Majure

    Glad I could help, Gordon! What did you do with yours?

  • Wizard

    I’m from Guerrero in Southern Mexico and I’m not sure but papalos and pipichas are native to this area, at least native to the culinary culture there.

    You’re right, they’re actually papalos. That’s what we call them there. Pipichas are a different kind of herb with a stronger bolder taste. Papalos are lighter more savory and the leaves are softer. These are pipichas:

    We usually eat them on picaditas, tacos, with mole rojo, with any meats but never on salads. We place a bunch in a glass in the middle of the table like a flower vase and pinch off the leaves while we eat. ;o)

  • Janet Majure

    Thanks, Wizard. The two certainly don’t look alike! I’d heard about the tabletop availability. Love the concept.

  • samus

    What does the papalos or pipicha nutriet you wht nutrients does it have?

  • Janet Majure

    Sorry, samus, I don’t know the answer. A quick Web search found nothing. I assume it’s similar to other leafy herbs like, say, cilantro or parsley, but that’s a guess.

  • velez

    well i am from santo domingo huehuetlan el grande puebla, and here 90 percent of the people commerce with papalo and pipicha,,, i can tell you that here we transport tons of papalo allover the world including russia…. we have the best of the best in diferent kinds of moles poblanos and whenever you feel like coming contact the comite of new york, ny or los angeles california, people from these region is very riliable and puebla is one of the safest state to visit.

  • Shez

    yes, just got a whiff of Pipicha since my hubby (native from Mex. City) brought some home today. i opened the ziploc and about fell over, but it wasnt a bad smell, it was really really strong and perfumy. I took a tiny snip of one blade and chewed it up. it has an intense carroty- perfumey flaver/smell. i do not care for cilantro, but i did like this Pipicha. it would only take a wee bit to season anything, however!! Pipicha is the blade-like grassy herb. Papalo is the one with roundish leaves on it. (He brought THAT home last week!) I did not care for Papalo, but i did like this “grass” stuff! I think you could put a tiny bit in poco de gallo instead of cilantro (my preference! “no cilantro, please”) otherwise it will be interesting to see how he uses it. PS: he just told me that he makes quesadillas (empanadas) of Squashflowers and Papicha. No cheese, just the homemade masa dough circles, a squash blossom and a sprig of Papicha. I can imagine after frying, you open the steaming hot empanada and smelling that pungent aroma!!

  • Magdalena

    This is certainly papalos; I love it and I go crazy over it like catnip for cats. This herb is abundant in Southwestern Puebla; my father’s family and I are originally from Chiautla de Tapia and my mother is from Cohetzala (which is not far from the State of Guerrero) and papalos was always a centerpiece delicacy.

    Like Wizard, we always put papalos (or cilantro) on a drinking glass that serves like a vase; we take a piece at a time and munch on it when we’re eating spicy mantecadas (something like picaditas), mole, beans, etc. I figured the purpose for doing that is to clear the palate since the papalos have a very strong, pungent and savory taste. I assume papalos would come from the watercress family since it has a pungent, refreshing and mild spicy taste; it just wakes your senses up!

    My father likes to have these papalos on a bean stew cooked for a couple of hours in a clay pot and believe me it is a delicacy! I’m growing them in my backyard this season and look forward to making bean stew soon enough.

  • Nillie

    My parents were born in Guerrero & I grew up eating papalos. My father actually grows his own here in Chicago & you can always find a fresh bunch sitting in a water glass on out dinning room table (in the summer time.) My parents have never used this herb for cooking, but we do eat the leaves when we are eating tacos or something spicy. I’m actually curious to learn about the nutritional value of this herb. My father always told me that this herb helped your digestive system, but that could’ve just been his way of getting me to eat them. :)

  • Janet Majure

    Velez, Shez, Magdalena and Nillie: Thanks for your contributions to understanding papalo! Also, for those of you who didn’t read all the comments, you can see I later wrote about some papalo success I had here:

  • Erick

    Ok… People im a farmer from Redlands C.A and i have over 20 acres of Papalo. Its region its from Puebla, Mexico. Papalo is not like cilantro to eat the proper way to eat Papalo is to symply eat it when you are eating something say you are eating some soup for example just eat a couple of leaves and enjoy. Like i said Papalo is not a herb for cooking just for eating NOT FOR COOKING. Enjoy

  • Janet Majure

    Hey, Erick. You sound like someone who would know. Thanks for the update!

  • Erick

    I have read several comments and one that i really pay attention is to Nillie’s comment. One of the facts she said is that papalo helps too digest food i have eat papalo for all my life and its true that it has a strong smell. I tryit with some pizza and i love it but if you want to eat Papalo look for a restaurant where they sell cemitas poblanas its like a torta but its special cook and at the end they add some papalo oh and remember if your cemita does not have Papalo its not a cemita.

  • Flores

    I didn’t read all the comments, tho coming from Mexico, I can say that this herb is more commonly known as pipicha then papalo, there is another herb specifically called papalo and they are not pipichas.

    You can get seeds for the herb from shops in Mexico very easily, if you know anyone from Mexico, you can simply ask them to send you some seeds, they are very small and almost puffy looking, more like a small flower.

    As for the taste, it would depend on the person, but it’s more of an acquired taste and even some Mexica won’t eat it!

  • Flores

    Ok, so there might have been a bit of a mix up for me earlier.. papalo is not the same as pipicha, the picture shown at the top of the page is of papalo, pipichas, have more of a longer slender leaves instead of a rounded leave.. .. there is a also another herb that is also used in the Mexica culture, We also have copal kelite which is also really good, I’ll be taking some pictures of them in my garden an update with the URLs. I may have some extra seeds for all of them in the next coming months.

    • Janet Majure

      Hey, thanks for the update/clarification, Flores. When I first got the herb, I had a hard time identifying it, and there does seem to be confusing information out there. — Janet

  • yadira

    Omg! I LOVE this stuff, Last year i tried bringing some seeds from Mexico but i forgot them. I grew up eating this. It grows wild in my Grandmothers yard so we would eat it with everything and anything. I also had some Kelite’s not my favorite but it’s very popular in Mexico.

  • Janet Majure

    Hi, Yadira,
    Don’t know for sure, but I think this is the same thing if you want to buy seeds: Ate it with anything and everything, eh? Whew! Not sure I could do that! Thanks for writing. — Janet

  • carol r.

    i just discovered pipicha at Ventura’s Swap Meet and tasted a leaf. that is an unusual flavor i would need to get used to.

  • Laura

    I bought a seedling at the Union Sq Farmers Market in NYC and I planted it in my backyard garden. It grows so easily and it looks beautiful as well. I love the taste. I even use it as a salad green. It seems like when eaten in large quantities it smells just as strong “coming out” as it does going in!

  • Omar

    It’s called Papalo quelite. Native to the state of Puebla.

  • Donatella

    I found real pipicha and also white and red papalo at ecrater the waltons family farm. i love all of them.
    Not sure which order. But they have native mexican plants there.