By Mariana Hernández Basañez
“Imagine a world without frontiers, imagine the aroma of faraway lands perfumed by spices; imagine bringing the taste of a whole new world within a single dish; imagine new routes of communication and trade…”, these could have been words of motivation that Christopher Columbus spoke to his crew, when sailing in search of the Indies.
Ever since I can remember, I was taught that Christopher Columbus’ main motivation to find a new route to India, was based upon the commerce of spices. However, I had not realized until now, that in a way, America was discovered by the Europeans as a result of a gastronomic expedition. In the end, Europeans were interested not only in increasing their trade and commercial routes, but in finding ways to improve the taste of their own day-to-day meals.
If we take a close look at its impact, the discovery of America was the key turning-point in the fusion and global learning of culinary art throughout most of the world. Many new ingredients crossed the seas, but especially those originating in the current Mexican territory sparked great attention, like chile (hot pepper), cacao (cocoa), vanilla, corn, beans, peanuts, tomatoes, squash or zucchini, avocado, maguey and turkey, to name a few of the best known examples.
Without a doubt, two ingredients that caused special interest within the societies of the New World were corn and chocolate. The mixture of sugar and chocolate, a fusion of both Spanish and Aztec ingredients, became a favorite breakfast and afternoon beverage created by the Spaniards and enjoyed by the aristocracy and higher clergy.
Other important examples are tomatoes and chiles, or peppers, which became natural game changers in several world cuisines, such as the Italian, where experimentation with pasta (imported from China) became one of the most recognized and popular food fares around the world!
However, Mexican gastronomy also benefitted from this, as many farm animals, such as cows, pigs, goats and chickens were introduced into the country, along with vegetables like carrots, onions and garlic. Wheat, rice and other ingredients melded into the culture as well, creating and enriching what is now our current Mexican cuisine.
Even though Columbus’ arrival to the American continent was merely accidental, the objective of his journey was successful, as he managed to discover a whole new world of fruits, spices, vegetables and meats that enriched not only the European, but the world’s gastronomic heritage.