One of the most important foods traveling from America to Europe and around to other parts of the world was corn. It is common for many food systems to be dominated by a particular food item that is closely identified with the culture, and can be considered vital to the groups' well being.
In Mexico, this role is played corn (Zea Mays)
. As Eva de Lourdes Diaz wrote, "corn is the bread of America, the gift of Quetzalcoatl. Man is made of corn; a sacred plant."
. It is an important and respected food in Mexico. Corn plays an important role in the ceremonial ritual, and agricultural life of the Mexican people; it's also an ancient plant of Mesoamerica. Corn is a staple grain that was domesticated about 7,000 to 10,000 years ago in Mexico.
Corn comes from a grass called teosinte (zea Mexicana). The Incas of Peru, the Mayas and the Aztecs of Mexico depended on corn. Corn is so important in the Mexican diet that no meal can be considered a proper one without it. Aztec women breathed on corn kernels before placing them in a pot to cook so they would not be afraid of the fire
Columbus brought corn back to Europe, where it became just as important there as in Mexico. Corn is considered the third-largest food crop in the world. Mexicans enjoy corn in some form in all three meals and snacks.
Corn can be prepared in many ways. It can be boiled, roasted, toasted and ground into corn flour. Whole kernels are used in a variety of stews. Cooks try to use all the parts of the corn plant when cooking. Corn yields much more grain per acre than wheat or rice
. There are more than 300 varieties of corn.
Originally, corn was a tropical plant; however corn can grow and different types of soils and climates. Some varieties can even grow in the Alaska and Russia. The growing patterns of corn can be quite different. Some take two months to grow, while others take up to seven months. Some varieties grow many feet high; others grow only a few inches. Some kernels are small; others are large. The color of corn kernels can be different in color as well. The corn kernels can be white, yellow, red, purple or even striped.
The most common use of corn in present day Mexico can be found in the form of tortillas and tamales. There are many other food items that re made with corn products as well. Corn is used to make Atole; a stew-like dish thickened with masa (wet milled corn), sweetened with sugar, flavored with crushed fruit, and seasoned with chile pepper. Champurrado is atole flavored with chocolate, another important Mexican treat.
Corn is the base for many beverages such as chilote, tan chuera, and tejate; just to name a few. Tanchuera contains corn kernels, chocolate and anise. Tascalate contains ground tortillas, water and chocolate. Other popular Mexican beverages contain apple, vinegar, sugar cane, honey and cactus paddles.
Besides its popularity in Mexico, corn is the leading crop in Central America, Argentina, parts of Chile, the West Indies and in the United States. Corn offers many advantages over wheat. It produces more calories in less space, and in less time. It can also require less man power than wheat to maintain.
The pestle is the instrument which is used to grind soft corn for the making of corn flour. It is made of stone. Other varieties of corn besides soft corn are pop, dent and sweet (the most familiar of types).
Tamales and tortillas are not only enjoyed for special occasions, but are eaten on a daily basis. Tamales and tortillas are made with the same corn dough, called masa. Tamales of many varieties are enjoyed in many regions of the country. Their fillings include pork, chicken with beans and chili peppers. Tortillas are compared to American corn pancakes. Tortillas come in many colors. The white or yellow tortillas are most common and eaten daily. Fillings can be beans, chicken, onions, cheese, pork and sour cream. Small finger food tortillas are snack food. Sopes and chalupas are a few varieties of this little tortilla.