Reviving the gastronomic traditions of Ibiza: striped watermelon and Xeixa wheat

Josep Lluis Joan

Josep Lluis Joan

His role is to promote awareness of the traditional products of Ibiza, so that they can become both a source of income and a differentiating factor for this declining sector. Josep Lluis Joan is an agricultural engineer by training and a technician working for the Ibiza Island Council to promote the quality of the island’s agro-food industry. Within his remit to raise awareness of the island’s traditional produce and to revive those areas that have fallen into decline, he now presents two of Ibiza’s most unique raw ingredients: striped watermelon and Xeixa wheat.

The aim of showcasing local produce is simply to “maintain the economic viability of a primary sector through differentiation and links with the island’s traditions,” explains Josep Lluis. He adds that in order to achieve this, his work focuses on “promoting the most iconic products and those that have the greatest economic impact as a means of conserving the rural heritage and supplying the restaurant trade which has tended to move away from home-grown produce.” With this in mind, the Sabors d’Eivissa [Tastes of Ibiza] brand was established, a promotional tool for differentiating and labelling traditional products including flaó [a kind of cheesecake containing anise and mint], sobrasada [cured pork sausage], lamb, the red potato, watermelon and (since last year), varieties such as meló eriçó [a local type of melon] and white pepper.

We promote traditional products as a means of conserving the rural heritage and supplying the restaurant trade which has tended to move away from home-grown produce

Sabors d’Eivissa is also a badge of identity for those restaurants with a commitment to the island’s produce. This badge informs customers that in these particular establishments they can enjoy either traditional or innovative dishes created using Ibiza’s most iconic agricultural produce, as well as wines, hierbas ibicencas [a traditional Ibizan liqueur] and olive oils produced on the island.

Josep Lluis Joan and the Ibiza Island Council work with the various town halls to organise food fairs, such as the lobster fair, and the salt fair—to name just two. They also set up tasting events to showcase typical local products to residents and visitors alike. On this occasion, Josep Lluis Joan is introducing two typical local products with a long history: the watermelon and Xeixa wheat.

 

Xeixa wheat

One of the island’s main agricultural crops, which has always been key to its economy, is wheat—which, despite being a staple food in the Mediterranean diet, is a cereal whose production has been steadily diminishing. This decline in wheat growing has various causes: These include the island’s rainfall, which is below that required for wheat cultivation, as a result of which production has tended to switch more and more to barley, a much more resilient cereal. Production of wheat and other cereals is crucial to Ibiza, given that while rainfed farming still predominates on the island, it is being abandoned due to its reduced profitability.

Production of wheat is crucial, given that while rainfed farming still predominates on the island, it is being abandoned due to its reduced profitability

Common wheat for baking originated in the Near East, and its high quality ensured that it became the preferred flour for bread making, especially as the mild climate and wet winters provided conditions favourable to its cultivation. In the 1960s, farmers opted for more productive varieties, with the result that the more traditional species were neglected, as they were unable to compete. Even in ideal conditions, a traditional wheat variety such as Xeixa struggles to exceed 2,000 kg per hectare, while an improved commercial variety can reach 10,000 kg in naturally humid or irrigated areas.

Xeixa wheat has always been highly valued for its whiteness and aromatic properties, as well as for its resistance to drought. It is precisely these heritage varieties of wheat, with their aroma and their superior digestibility, that are currently experiencing a commercial resurgence. Xeixa and products derived from wheat are a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet and a staple food, which is consumed in the form of bread, cocas and galletes fortes [sweet dough], crostes [toasted bread, mainly used in salads], pies and various pastries. Currently, Xeixa wheat is experiencing a revival, and a great effort is being made to return to the flavours of traditional products rooted in the island’s heritage.

Xeixa wheat

Xeixa wheat © Consell d’eivissa

 

Ibiza striped watermelon

Striped watermelon is one of Ibiza’s principal agricultural products, and is valued and appreciated by both the island’s inhabitants and visiting tourists. It is also one of Ibiza’s most differentiated crops, and is preferred to watermelons produced elsewhere. With a long history of cultivation in hot climates, the watermelon originated in Africa. It was grown in Egypt, and from there it spread around the Mediterranean, where its cultivation was pioneered by the Arabs.

Ibiza watermelon is particularly sweet and crunchy. Currently, unlike other varieties that are grown seedless, Ibiza watermelons are still produced with seeds. This is because growers have found that varieties of watermelon grown with their seeds are crunchier and have a better flavour. Because of its quality and economic importance, the watermelon is one of Ibiza’s star products. It is the quintessential summer fruit.

Growers have found that varieties of watermelon grown with their seeds are crunchier and have a better flavour

The current challenge is to maintain their differentiation in the face of lower-quality, imported watermelon that goes on sale well in advance of the island’s watermelon season, which allows to introduce several months earlier a product that we have traditionally enjoyed from mid-June onwards. The Ibiza watermelon can be easily identified, as the fruit is now labelled by the growers at its point of production.

Ibiza striped watermelon

Ibiza striped watermelon © Consell d’eivissa