In her article about Maya foods published in SFGate.com, Christine Delsol uncovers the origins of our most treasured staples, those we could now barely do without.
Delsol explains that the Maya civilization covered a vast territory, form the Yucatán Peninsula to Chiapas and Tabasco states, part of Veracruz state as far north as Honduras. They are not only known for their architectural techniques, written language centuries before Europe, the mathematical concept to zero, astronomy: creating the 365 day solar calendar, but also for their agricultural wizardry.
Surprisingly, for this, they have not been given much credit. Yet according to authenticmaya.com, Maya agriculture was the foundation of civilization.
The conquerors spread the seeds
The Spanish took with them Maya food staples back to Europe, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa forever changing the worlds eating habits. This is no exaggeration. Most of the staples we find daily in our supermarkets, we have the Mayans to thank for. Could we go a day without them? Remember the movie “A day without a Mexican’? How about a day without any of these ingredients?
The following may change the way you see food. Knowing where food comes from makes it more precious.
10 Maya foods
Chocolate: But of course, the New World’s gift to civilization! According to Delsol, the Maya believed chocolate came from the gods, making a bridge between heaven and earth. Cacao seeds were also a form of money. Both the Aztecs and the Mayadrank their chocolate bitter and spicy, no sugar at that time yet.
Vanilla: Around the 1500’s the Maya flavored their chocolate with this bean which came from the only edible orchid and it was later adopted by the Aztecs who later introduced it to Hernán Cortés, details Delsol. Adding that this bean only grows wild in Southern Mexico’s jungle.
Corn: The most important food in the Americas, no doubt. The Maya bible Popul Vuh states that human kind exists thanks to corn, explains Delsol. She says that according to this myth, “Creators and Makers” made man from tender kernels of corn after having failed to do so with mud and wood. “The Maya considered corn a gift from the gods and cultivating it was a sacred duty,” states Maya Discovery.
Chiles: According to Delsol’s special report, chiles were cultivated in the Americas way back 7,500 years ago. Adding that they are concentrated on capsaicinoids which release endorphins, increasing heart rate and stimulating your mind causing euphoria. Capsicium annuum, a species in Southern Mexico, is of utmost importance in almost all spicy food in the world.
Tomatoes: The Mayans cultivated tomatoes way before Cortés set foot in an Aztec market around 1520, explains Delsol adding that the Italians had no tomato sauce until Cortés brought it to Europe. Tomatoes where believed to be poisonous, being related to the deadly nightshade.
Black beans: According to archeological findings, these beans originated in Southern Mexico and Central America over 7,000 years ago, says Delsol. Adding that, from the Yucatán, they have spread throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and in the Southern States of the United States.
Avocado: A priced aphrodisiac from Southern Mexico. Ahuacatl was what Aztecs called it testicle, writes Delsol. During the harvest, young daughters where kept in doors. This sexual association made it hard to sell before the 19thcentury. Growers had to persuade buyers that these avocados were not lascivious to consume.
Sweet potato: The Mayans farmed this native to the tropics 5,000 years ago, tells Delsol. Adding that from there, sweet potatoes spread all over the Caribbean and South America. Usually confused with the yam (native to Africa), another type of sweet potato.
Squash: According to Delsol, before the Spanish introduced beef and pork, the Mayans used the oils from the seeds as their main source of fat. The Mayans cultivated squash as far back as 8,000 B.C. Native plants included zucchini, cucumber, patty pan, butter squash and pumpkin. Pumpkin now defines the Yucatán diet, ground toasted seeds are actually more popular than the flesh.
Papaya: It all indicates that papayas have its origin in the tropics of Southern Mexico and Central America. Delsol explains that the Spanish took the seeds to Panama and the Dominican Republic and spread them to South and Central America, Europe, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, India and parts of Africa. Today, Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that grows them.
Read more at SFGate.com