When it comes to food, Mexico will always top our lists.
Be it fresh seafood in Baja or Oaxaca’s street food, you name it and we’re into it. Beyond eating we’re also into the history behind where our food comes from, which, in the case of Mexico, means taking it back to central America’s ancient civilizations.
Foods That Originated In Mexico
From cacao and corn to the beloved avocado, many of the foods we associate with authentic Mexican food come from Mexico’s indigenous people. Meaning quite a few of the foods we now consider commonplace were feeding and nourishing locals way before the Spanish arrived and shuttled them to other corners of the world.
Here, we’re going back to basics by breaking down a list of the most common foods that got their start in Mexico. From avocado to beans and cacao to papaya, here are a few foods that are originally from Mexico.
Long before mashed avocados adorned all of the toasts, Mexico’s indigenous civilizations ate and grew the creamy green fruit and considered it super important.
It was deemed so important that the word avocado comes from a Nahuatl (Aztec) word “ahuácatl” meaning testicle. It's debated if the reference is due to the fruit's shape or that it was considered an aphrodisiac. Bottom line is that the Aztecs believed avocados gave you strength and the fruit was also important to the Maya who depicted in their calendar.
Puebla, a small city southeast of Mexico City is believed to be the historic ground zero for Mexico. These days the state of Michoacan is one of the few places in the world where avocados can grow year-round thanks to its fertile volcanic soil, sunshine, and rain that make for perfect growing conditions.
Cook it in this: Classic Guacamole Recipe
The origins of beans are widely credited to central Mexico (specifically to the regions of modern day states of Jalisco and Durango) and throughout South America. Oftentimes, beans were grown in tandem with maize (corn) and squash as a farming technique to efficiently maximize the soil, and to minimize soil erosion.
Beans are present throughout Mexican cuisine –– they’re served as a side, in soups, used as fillings and toppings, for refried beans, and more. Pinto and black beans are the most common types we see used in mainstream Mexican food here in the United States, there are countless varieties (many of which you can try thanks to our friends at Rancho Gordo)!
Cook it in these: Black Bean Smothered Enchiladas
Before chocolate was known as a sweet indulgence, the ancient civilizations in present-day Mexico (as in the Olmecs, to the Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Aztecs) grew cacao. Back then cacao was used in a variety of ways from rituals (including marriage ceremonies and initiations), to currency, and a bitter drink made with spices like vanilla or chile.
It wasn’t until Spanish conquistadors arrived and returned to Spain with cacao that sugar and cinnamon were added to create something resembling the Mexican chocolate we know today.
Cook it in this: Sweet Potato Tamale with Chocolate Sauce Recipe
Chiles – aka chili, chilli and chile pepper – are also native to Mexico, though more specifically the Mesoamerica region defined by Central Mexico to Central America and part of Costa Rica. The word chili is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word which belongs to the Aztec language.
In Mexican dishes, chiles can toasted and soaked or ground to be used in everything from salsas, soups, pureed into adobos (a sauce made with tomato and spices), or moles.
Cook it in this: Cocoa Chile Sweet-Spicy Snack Mix Recipe
Maize's (aka corn) roots go back 10,000 years and are connected to a wild grass native to central Mexico. Corn is a sacred plant in the culture since everything from the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs all ate and had a very deep connection with corn.
There are believed to be more than 50 varieties of corn and it's a cornerstone ingredient in Mexican cooking. In fact, you will see corn used to make everything from tortillas and tamales and tlacoyos to elote.
Papaya –– specifically the maradol variety –– is believed to have come from Mexico, before traveling with Spanish and Portuguese explorers to locales including India and the Philippines.
Today, Mexico grows most of the world’s papayas, followed by Hawaii, Brazil and Belize. In Mexico City you'll find papaya used as a key ingredient in fruit cups topped with chile and lime, in refreshers like paletas (popsicles) or aguas frescas (fruit water).
The word tomato comes from the Nahuatl word tomatl and this staple ingredient in traditional Mexican cooking also has origins in Mesoamerica. In Nahuatl, tomatl has a few recorded meanings, including “swelling fruit” and “fat water.”
Spanish conquistadors who traveled to Mexico introduced tomatoes to Europe, which they believed were poisonous and instead grown for ornamental reasons before gaining edible popularity. Today, tomatoes are used around the world including back in their native Mexico. In fact, tomatoes are often used as the bases of salsas, which, btw refers to all sauces and not just the ones that come with tortilla chips.
Also, you’ll sometimes see the word jitomate in reference to red tomatoes, while the little green tomatoes (wrapped in husks), are called tomatillos.
Cook it in this: Shortcut Posole
What are your favorite foods that come from Mexico? Let us know in the comments below!
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More Mexico On Salt & Wind Travel
- What To Pack For Mexico City
- What To See On Your First Trip To Mexico City
- Photos Of Our Favorite Places To Visit In Northern Baja California
Opening photo by Joanne Pio