Home | FOOD_ARTICLES | Food_Trivia | Today_in_Food_History | Food_History_Timeline | Recipes | Cooking_Tips | Food_Videos | Food_Quotes | Who’s_Who | Culinary_Schools_&_Tours | Food_Trivia_Quizzes | Food_Poems | Free_Magazines | Food_Festivals_and_Events
Food Articles, News & Features Section
A-Maize-ing History of Corn
Mesoamerica is a region straddling the southern part of North America and the northern part of Central America. Long obscured by modern day political boundaries it roughly encompasses the southern half of Mexico and the northwestern section of Central America. It was a cradle of Pre-Columbian (before Columbus) civilization and was home to the renowned Maya and Aztec Indians, amongst others. Sadly, as with the North American continent, the cultural richness of these peoples, not to mention their way of life, was all but destroyed by the European imperialists, in this particularly tragic case, the Spanish. But all the European might could not vanquish some of the timeless gifts these people left to mankind; one of the most amazing being maize, otherwise known as corn in the United States.
The term maize is a derivative of an early American Indian word mahiz. “Corn” originally was an English term used to denote small particles, particular grains. Corned beef received it’s moniker from the small grains (corns) of salt used to preserve it. What we now call corn the early American colonists called Indian corn which was eventually lexicalized to corn. Today, “Indian Corn” refers to the ornamental corn of Halloween and Thanksgiving fame.
Strangely, despite thousands of years of cultivation in the lower Americas, corn didn’t find its way to the modern day United States until around A.D. By A.D. 600, a number of North American Indians were extensively growing it. Corn’s journey to the Old World began with Christopher Columbus who ferried it back to Spain. By 1500 it was under cultivation in Spain and by the 17th century it was a major crop for a number of European countries. The Portuguese introduced it to East Africa and Asia and from there it was just a matter of time until it arrived in India and China through established trade routes. It was flourishing in China in the 18th century and reached Korea and Japan soon after. Corn is now one of the most widely grown vegetables on Earth, especially in the Americas. The United States and China lead world production.
Interestingly, the early Spanish invaders of Mesoamerica were aversive to corn. Some of the Indian tribes practiced human sacrifice and grisly rituals which involved corn. The conquistadors thus correlated corn with internecine paganism and considered its consumption unchristian. Corn consumption was also associated with pellagra, a deficiency disease of niacin in conjunction with the amino acid tryptophan. Corn is barren of niacin. Tryptohan can be converted to niacin in the body thus attenuating the depletion of niacin.
A diet dominated by corn with little other vegetables or sources of tryptophan can result in pellagra. Pellagra causes dermatological, gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms and ultimately death. Eventually of course, the Europeans transcended their initial prejudices against corn.
Join us next week for the second half of our tour of the world of corn where we’ll discuss selecting and cooking corn.
Please feel free to link to any pages of FoodReference.com from your website.