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Western Europeans, Middle Eastern populations and North Americans think of bread when the term carbohydrate is mentioned. Yet there are billions of people for whom rice, corn, potatoes, or millet represent their principal source of carbohydrates.
People have always consumed foodstuffs that they could grow, or raise, or catch. Climate and topography completed the picture imposing restrictions on types of vegetables and fruits. Generally people have a preponderance to consume whatever is available closest to them and easiest to obtain. Only since a century ago fast transportation made it possible to bring fresh produce and meat from distant sources. Today many wealthy nations import considerable amounts fro of foods from countries half a world away. The USA, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Scandinavian countries come to mind.
Developing countries have insufficient convertible currency reserves to import luxury foods. If and when absolutely necessary basic foodstuffs will be imported or donations accepted.
Wheat bread (unleavened or leavened) was, and remains the primary source of carbohydrates for Mediterranean people. Even potatoes are considered a vegetable. On the other hand, northern Europeans treat potato as their main source of carbohydrate and supplement it with rye or dark breads. Scandinavians are famous for their thin twice-baked kneackebrod.
Most south Asians consider rice their primary carbohydrate and grow substantial amounts. There are hundreds of species of rice, but mainly all can be grouped into two categories: long- and short grained. Long grain rice separates after cooking and short grain tends to stick together. Chinese and Japanese prefer short grain rice for ease in eating with chopsticks, and for their sushi.
Italians use short grain, highly starchy rice (Arborio, Vialone-Nano, Carnaroli) for their risottos.
Basmati rice from India or Pakistan, is long grain, delicate, and fragrant. Properly cooked Basmati is considered the best by food connoisseurs. Dheradouni (a village in northern addenda) reputedly produces the best. Patna in India is also famous for its long grain rice.
Rice needs a lot of water, but American researchers developed a strain that can be dry farmed, and Texas along with other states (Virginia, West Virginia) produce significant quantities. Texas is known for Texmati rice, a take off on Basmati.
Middle Eastern people prefer wheat bread and rice. Armenians are known for their lavash – a wheat, water and salt dough very thinly rolled out and baked on a hot surface. Lavash can keep for a long time and needs only be sprinkled with water and re-thermalizied.
French bakers have been elevating the art of bread making to fine art for centuries. French baguette is famous all over the world, but it happens to be one of the many shapes and textures of bread.
Parisians are known to travel long distances to patronize their favourite baker to buy their daily bread or croissant.
German bakers excel in rye bread, and are known for their “vollkorn” breads (unground kernels still visible in the bread).
When Europeans set foot on American soil, the indigenous population ate corn and cornmeal. Still, today for aboriginals in southwestern USA, Mexico, Central America starch means corn.
South America is a different picture. Potatoes originated in Peru. Aztecs knew and collected thousands of species for seed and maintained banks just to make sure that if a specie fell victim to ravages of nature they would have a back up.
To them, carbohydrate meant potato. Still today, it is easy to find in South American farmers markets up to 60 different potato species. In North America the choice is much more limited for commercial reasons. Today the majority of South American countries are inhabited by the descendants of European immigrants who prefer bread, over potato.
Caribbeans and Guyanese like roti and other types of flat bread, pending on their origins. The descendants of east Indian indentured workers like roti and rice, the aboriginals in Guyana prefer cassava, eddo, dasheen, and tania.
North Africans along the shores of Mediterranean are bread aficionados, whereas sub-Saharan peoples like millet and other grains coarsely ground, mixed with water and cooked.
The world revolves around starch, oils, fats and vegetables. Meat and fish were condiments and used in small quantities infrequently, maybe one or twice a month. This is the healthy way of nourishment.
In wealthy countries, people consume huge quantities of meat and little else. This causes many gastrointestinal diseases over time, not to speak of frequent heartburn and indigestion.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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