Friday, November 24, 2006

Foods from the Americas


Lots of popular foods come from the "New World." Some are well known, but others may surprise you. ;) Nearly 30% of all cultivated plants grown worldwide have their origins in the New World (1).

Vegetables
  • Cassava (Tapioca or Manioc) -- from South America. It can be grown in very poor soils and still yield a very nutritious vegetable. Amazon Indians domesticated over 40 varieties. Some can be eaten right away, others must be processed to remove a naturally occurring poison (2).
  • Potatoes -- South America, especially the Andean mountains.
  • Beans (all varieties) -- from Central America, spread to North America
  • Peanuts -- from South America. The word "Goober" for peanuts is African and means "ground nut" (5).
  • Sweet Potatoes -- Native to Mexico
Fruits
  • Tomatoes -- native to Mexico, but many varieties are found in the Andes (2). The Aztec word for tomato is xitomatl (6).
  • Tomatillo -- also cultivated by the Aztecs. These are most often seen in salsa verde.
  • Squash -- various types grow all over the Americas. Some, like the pumpkin, are native to more tropical climates. The word squash is Native American and comes from the word askutasquash which means "eaten raw or uncooked" (5).
  • Chili Peppers/Sweet Peppers -- natives to Central America and Mexico.
  • Avocado -- originated in Southern Mexico, eaten by Incas and Aztecs.
  • Papaya -- most likely native to Southern Mexico.
  • Guava -- also most likely native to Southern Mexico.
  • Raspberry/ Blackberry -- native to North America.
  • Strawberry -- native to North America.
  • Cranberries -- native to North America and used by Native Americans in a food called pemmican, which is sort of an energy food. It was made with jerky, cranberries and fat (7).
  • Blueberry -- native to North America.
  • Pineapple -- native to Brazil and Southern Paraguay.
  • Passion Fruit -- native to South America as far south as north Argentina.
  • Paw Paw -- native to North America.
  • Serviceberry -- sometimes used to flavor pemmican. Native to North America.
  • Teaberry -- tasty berry used to flavor a brand of gum. Native to North America.
Grains & Nuts
  • Corn (Maize) -- there is no "wild" corn. Corn is a human invention and may have been developed from a plant known as Teosinte (3). It was developed in Mexico between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago (4).
  • Quinoa -- grows in the Andean mountains and was considered sacred by the Incas (2)
  • Wild Rice -- not actually a rice, but a water grass of the species zizania aquatica. It was a staple in the diet of the Chippewa and Sioux Indians. It is also known as Minnesota's State Grain (8).
  • Cashews -- native to Brazil.
  • Amaranth -- a staple grain in the diets of the Aztecs.
  • Pecans -- native to North America and the state tree of Texas.
  • Sunflower -- native to North America.
Spices, etc
  • Chocolate -- the Aztecs considered it a gift from the gods, the name "chocolate" has Aztec origins. They called it xoco-latl.
  • Vanilla -- comes from an orchid! May have first been domesticated by the Totonac Indians, who still cultivate it today(2).
  • Allspice -- from the Caribbean.
  • Sassafras -- used as a tea, condiment and medicinally.
Sources: New World Foods, Ethnobotany (Foods that changed the world), The Story of Corn, Doebly Lab, Seeds of Change, Gourmet Sleuth, Culinary Sleuth, Minnesota Wild Rice

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