Featured Ingredient — By Ben on 17 July 2008
13 Mexican ingredients that changed the world…

…or are changing the world. First I want to explain that when I say Mexican ingredients I am talking about ingredients native to the part of the world where now Mexico sits. When these ingredients were discovered/engineered/domesticated there was not a place called Mexico. That would come many centuries, and thousands of years, later. So here they are, 13 Mexican ingredients that changed the world:

  1. Let’s start with my favorite one, cocoa. Can you imagine a world without chocolate? I wouldn’t like to live in a place like that. Cocoa beans were used by the Mayas as currency, yeah cocoa was that important, and then Olmecs, Toltecs and Aztecs cultivated them. There is so much more I could tell you about cocoa (like the fact that Montezuma was excessively fond of a drink made with cocoa and vanilla sweetened with honey), but I have 12 more ingredients to go.
  2. Maize (Corn, Maíz) was first domesticated in what is now known as Oaxaca, Mexico, almost 9,000 years ago (according to some scientists). Corn has become one of the most widely used crops in the world. Here in the U.S. you can find it in almost every processed food (which is not very good for you, but that will be another TT)
  3. Although nowadays most of the modern vanilla is produced in the island of Madagascar, vanilla is native to the American continent, specifically the Mazatlan Valley in what is now the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. What would we modern bakers do without this little, sweet and aromatic pod?
  4. Tomatoes are another great addition to cuisines from all over the world. Some evidence points that the first domesticated tomatoes were cultivated by the Aztecs in the form of a small yellow fruit they called Xitomatl (shi-to-ma-tlh). What would Italian cuisine be without tomatoes?
  5. Squash and all its varieties (zucchini, pumpkin, chayote, etc.) was first domesticated and cultivated in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico and Central America) some 8 to 10 thousand years ago. They were usually grown with corn and beans in a crop growing system called milpa (also referred as Three Sisters) That method is still used in many small Mexican farms and it is a great example of sustainability.
  6. Although chillies are vegetables, many people used them as a spice. Some evidence points out that they were well domesticated more than 6,000 years ago in South America. Some scientists believe they were domesticated by different cultures in different eras at least 5 times. Want some heat or flavor in your food? Use any of the many varieties of chilli pepper for a unique taste.
  7. Can you imagine a game night without guacamole? Avocados popularity has been growing tremendously in the past years and now it has become a favorite fruit for sweet and savory dishes. Filled with good fats avocado is a delicious addition to your dinner table.
  8. I have talked about beans in another post. If you want to eat healthier and help reduce the impact of our species on the planet. Eat more beans!
  9. Papaya was cultivated in Mexico and Central America for probably thousands of years. However, it wasn’t until last century that it started to make its way into the U.S. Now papaya is grown in tropical countries all around the world.
  10. Nopal (prickly pear) is one of those ingredients that slowly is making its way into the world’s kitchen because of its delicious flavor and health benefits. Here’s a delicious Nopal salad you can try.
  11. Annatto is a seed native to the Yucatan peninsula and the Caribbean that is used today as food coloring for many varieties of cheese, rice, margarine and many other ingredients. It is also used for flavor and it can be found in many Mexican and Caribbean dishes, like in chochinita pibil.
  12. Tobacco is not a food ingredient, but I wanted to mention it here because of it’s historical and cultural importance. It was first domesticated and cultivated by the Mayas. By the time Europeans “discovered” The New World, tobacco was widely used in the whole continent and quickly became very  popular in Europe (and then the rest of the world) after its introduction.
  13. Now it is time to introduce to you one of the best kept secrets of Mexican cuisine: huitlacoche (whee-tla-KO-cheh) a.k.a. corn smut. It is not very known because many U.S. and European farmers treat it like a pest (in fact, it is a corn disease). It is a fungus that appears on ears of corn as they ripen after a heavy rain or period of high moisture. Although many governments and high profile chefs have tried to introduce it to U.S. and European diets, the efforts haven’t been very successful. Even in 1989 the James Beard Foundation tried to rename it the Mexican truffle. Until now, this delicious corn fungus is still a very expensive Mexican delicacy not known to many. If you come across it, don’t miss the opportunity to experience it.

That’s it for this Thursday Thirteen. I hope you enjoyed this post and learned a little bit about some of the ingredients that region has given to the world. After researching for this post I feel very proud of my roots.

Buen provecho!

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grew up around food. His family owned a restaurant in Mexico City and he spent a big deal of his childhood helping and learning after school the art of creating delicious dishes from simple ingredients. He created this blog to share his kitchen adventures with the world.

(22) Readers Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this post, I could no live with out chocolate. No way! Kim

  2. Pingback: 13 Mexican ingredients that have changed the world What cooking | Cast Iron Cookware

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