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When it comes to American food, it’s easy to assume that the US cuisine consists almost exclusively of Big Mac, milkshake and fries. But you might be surprised to learn that the American continent has actually brought us much more than junk food.
Avocados are native to Mexico and Central America, and California is the largest producer of avocados in America. The Mayans believed the avocado had magical powers – including being an aphrodisiac. The word Avocado actually comes from the Aztec word ahuacat which means ‘testicle’. If that doesn’t put you off, have some scrumptious guacamole on your nachos and try not to think about it…
Peppers were clearly one of the first crops grown by the Native Americans, over 10,000 years ago. From Peru, up to New Mexico, prehistoric civilisations grew chili peppers for food and medicinal benefits. Christopher Columbus is credited with naming them ‘peppers’ because he thought they tasted like Asian spice. Without Chilli peppers, there’d be no Mexican Chilli on the menu at Back Inn Time…
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao tree, which is native to South America. Cacao has been grown for over 3,000 years in Central America and Mexico. The Mayans and Aztecs fermented the beans and made them into a drink – often flavoured with chili peppers. Chilli chocolate is making a comeback now, although modern chocolate is made from cocoa, produced from the roasted, and ground, cacao beans. Chocolate Fudge Sundae anyone?
Native Americans were cultivating ‘maize’ in what is now Mexico over 5,000 years ago. Early English settlers called the Native tribe’s staple crop ‘Indian grain’ then ‘Indian corn’ which was later shortened to just corn. Corn was vital in the survival of the first European settlers, as it produces much more grain from an acre of land than any other crop, and can be eaten fresh and stored for long periods dry. And of course, it’s what nachos are made from…
Peanuts are another American staple – peanut butter and Jell-o sandwiches could only have been invented in America! Peanuts were first domesticated in South America over 7,000 years ago. Actually a legume, or a bean, rather than a tree nut, peanuts are a big feature of American menus.
The word pineapple was originally an old European term for what’s now call pinecones. When the explorers discovered this fruit in the American tropics, they called them ‘pineapples’ because they thought they looked very similar. Like papaya, pineapple also contains an enzyme that breaks down protein, which was used by the Native Americans to tenderize meat.
Pineapples can be traced back to the prehistoric mountains of Argentina. Once the delicious fruit was discovered, it made its way through all the Americas and was eventually taken back to Europe. There are actually over 5000 varieties of pineapple, although only a few are cultivated. Perfect in a Pina Colada, Alabama Slammer, or the alcohol-free Tongue Twister cocktails!