A little bit of history about four foods that originated with the Mayans in Mexico:
The Mayans are believed to be the first people to have discovered and cultivated the cacao plant for food. While cacao and chocolate were highly valued, the Mayans rarely consumed them as we do today. The Maya grew cacao trees in their backyards, and used the seeds to make a creamy, bitter drink. Chocolate was an important part of religious ceremonies, and used for medicinal purposes, while the beans were even traded as money. But cacao was never sweetened or cooked with — it wasn’t until the Spanish invaded Maya lands in the 1500s that preparations like spicy mole sauce came about.
The avocado is believed to have originated in southern Mexico, and was a treasured crop of the ancient Maya. While most Americans now favor the Hass avocado, many other, larger varieties were popular in the Mayan world.
Related: How to Make the Perfect Guacamole
Corn, or maize, was a cornerstone of Mayan culture. They believed that the gods made humankind out of maize, and considered this sacred plant a medicinal food. When suffering from severe illness, they would eliminate all other foods from the diet, believing that corn alone would restore the person to health. The Mayans understood how to unlock the full nutritional content of corn far better than most of us today, and prepared it with the addition of lime to unlock its full potential. The kernels were boiled, ground, and then formed by hand into flat tortillas and cooked on a griddle, called a comal. Made thicker and smaller than the tortillas that your burrito comes wrapped in at Chipotle, Mayan tortillas are warm, chewy, and packed with fresh-made flavor.
Tamales were the original Mayan lunch. Made from all-important corn flour, they might have been filled with meat, iguana eggs, green vegetables and toasted squash seeds, and cooked in a number of ways. Today, their preparation is still varied, but tamales are generally wrapped in either corn husks or banana or plantain leaves, and then steamed. After steaming and unwrapping, they’re served topped off with fresh salsa.
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