A lot of the foods that we enjoy today have not been around forever. When Christopher Columbus sailed west in 1492, he discovered a lot more than just new people and new land. On this new land that he discovered there were new kinds of food that Europeans had never heard of or seen. Columbus ate food that he had never tasted before, and he brought these foods back to Europe and Africa, ....and they spread like fire!
New World Foods: corn, potato, tomato, bell pepper, chili pepper, vanilla, tobacco, beans, pumpkin, cassava root, avocado, peanut, pecan , cashew, pineapple, blueberry, sunflower, petunia, black-eyed susan, dahlia, marigold, quinine, wild rice, cacao (chocolate), gourds, and squash.
Corn: Corn was grown by the North American, Central American, and South American Indians. They grew corn for thousands and thousands of years, even before Christopher Columbus arrived. These Indians helped starving early settlers by introducing corn to them and showing them how to cook it and also how to grow it. However, when Christopher Columbus did arrive in the West Indies, he traded with the Indians that were there for corn and brought it back to Spain. Corn was later shown to other countries and before you know it, corn was all over the world.
Potato: The potato originated in South America and the Inca Indians of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru grew potatoes beginning hundreds of years ago. The Incas used the potatoes to make chuno, which is a floury substance. The chuno was used as a substition for wheat in bread. The potato first arrived in Europe in the the mid 1500's. The English explorers were the ones to introduce potatoes to England and this popular food soon spread to Ireland and Scotland. In fact, the potato became so widespread and popular that in many countries it became the staple crop. The potato grew very well in Ireland ,and the Irish poor became dependent on it. In todays cooking, potatoes are used for french fries and potato chips, some of America's favorite foods.
Tomato: The tomato originated in Mexico. Some Spanish priests brought tomatos to Europe from Mexico in the mid 1500's. When explorers first discovered the tomato, they were afraid to eat it because of its bright red color; they thought that it was poisonous. The Aztecs were the ones eating the tomatos and the explorers saw that they did not get sick, even though they kept eating them. That is when they decided to try them themselves, and they savored the delicious taste and found that this food was not poisonous at all. People in Spain and Italy began to grow tomatos as food, but the tomato wasn't widely accepted until the early 1800's. However, today the tomato is one of the most important ingredients in Itailian Cuisine.
Cacoa (chocolate) : Cacao, more commonly known as chocolate, has been around for a while, however it did not have the same taste that we are used to today. The Maya Indians of Central America and the Aztec Indians of Mexico were the first cultivators of cacao beans. (These beans grow on a tree). They had been cultivating the beans long before Columbus arrived. The cacao beans played an impoprtant role in the traditions, religion, and legends of the Aztecs. The cacao beans, so highly prized, were actually used as money at times. The roalaty and wealthy would grind the beans to make a rich beverage. However, it was not until the beans were taken back to the old world that the chocolate we know today was made. The Aztecs ate the chocolate and drank the chocolate without any sugar. The Europeans were the ones who added the sugar and milk and gave it the taste that we all know. In 1528, cacao was introduced to Spain and in 1606 cacao was introduced to Italy.
Tobacco: Smoking has been going on for hundreds of years. In fact, American Indians were smoking long before Columbus arrived. When Columbus saw these neat seeds, he brought some with him back to Europe. Farmers planted these seeds and began to grow tabacco as a relaxation medicine. Spaniards and some Europeans smoked hand rolled cigarrets in the 1600's. However, smoking did not become popular untill the 1850's. In 1560, Jean Nicot, a French diplomat introduced tobacco to France. Tobacco's botanical name, Nicotiana, comes from Jean's last name, Nicot. Jon Rolfe was the one to bring tobacco seeds to Virginia and it became a very important crop in the southern United States. At first, tobacco was grown in the American colonies and then exported to England. Then the United States began to manufacture smoking Tabacco, chewing tabacco, and snuff. Now smoking is a very controrversial subject because it has been proven to be hazardous to your health.
Pineapple: Columbus and the explorers with him were the first Europeans to taste this fruit. Pineapples were found throughout South and Central America and in the West Indies. The explorers took the fruit to Europe and planted it. The pineapple became the favorite fruit of royalty and the wealthy. Today we use pineaple for cattle feed, meat tenderizers, and medicines.
Peanuts: The peanut is native to South America and the Indians of South America were growing peanuts 1000 years ago. Early North American settlers grew peanuts but no one really knows for sure if they were grown in North America before the early settlers arrived. One use of peanuts was that the settlers fed the peanuts to their hogs. Today peanuts are eaten alone, in candy, cookies, pies, peanut butter, and many more delicious foods. However, the oil that is derived from peanuts is used the most.
Sunflower: The sunflower originated in North America and was introduced to Europe in the 1500's. The sunflower is a bright yellow flower whose center contains seeds. These seeds are very rich in protein and are were used for snackfood and birdseed back then, as they are today. Since there are many types of sunflowers, one of the type's seeds contain up to 50% oil. 1/8 of vegetable oil is made up of sunflower seed oil. In fact, sunflower seed oil is at times used as a replacment for diesel fuel.
Squash: The squash is native to the Western Hemisphere. The Indians introduced the squash to Columbus and his followers. The name squash comesfrom askutasquash, a Narragansett Indian word that means eaten uncooked. In todays cooking, squash is eaten cooked and uncooked, and in many other ways. There are many different varieties of squash.
Vanilla: Vanilla originated in Mexico and was grown there for hundreds of years. This plant produces fruit and the extract is what is used for flavoring chocolate, ice cream, pastry , and candy. The process by which the flavor is extracted by is long, complicated, and expensive.
Quinine: The 1600 Spanish explorers and missionaries discovered that Indians of South America used the bark of cinchoa trees as medicine. This medicine is the only known treatment for malaria. It reduces the fever of malaria and can even cure some types of the disease, when it is combined with other medicines. When the cinchoa trees began to die out during the 1800's, other ones were planted in India and Indonesia which kept these trees around.