A Simple Retelling Of The Complex History Of Mexican Cuisine

Mexican cuisine has a history as vast and diverse as its flavors. Although many contributions came from the Spanish, it is believed that true Mexican food originated with the Mayan culture as far as 2,000 years ago.

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The four pillars of Mayan cuisine were (and still are, in regions like the Yucatán): achiote, citrus, habaneros, and smoke. Considering the fact that Mexicans rarely ate meat before the Spanish introduced a variety of livestock (including sheep, pigs, and cows) in 1521, many of the ingredients we know and love today are original Mexican veggies.

Back to Basics

Here are the classic staples of Mexican cuisine.


Chilies: The tasty food has always had a reputation for being spicy, and with good reason! Mexicans used many different kinds of spicy chilies - -such as jalapeno, ancho, and Serrano -- to add intense flavor to their foods. They were cooked fresh, whole, and even dried or powdered, offering a limitless array of options (and attributing to the large number of dishes now available at top Mexican restaurants throughout the country).

Fat: Ancient Mexicans used lard to cook, which added aroma and flavor to the masa used for making tamales. Today, people tend to use refined vegetable oil, but butter is absolutely never used in traditional Mexican food.

Beans: Many different beans are used in Mexican cuisine, most commonly kidney, black, and pinto beans. The legume was a staple in traditional Mexican diet, along with corn, and are found in a variety of recipes as a result.

Corn: The yellow vegetable provided the ancient Mexicans with their main source of nutrition, frequently being ground down (masa is dough created from ground corn). Although peppers, onions, and garlic are known as traditionally Mexican now, they were actually brought over by the Spanish and subsequently incorporated into traditional dishes.

Many spices that we associate with traditional Mexican food -- such as coriander, oregano, parsley, and black pepper -- were actually introduced to indigenous Mexicans in the 16th Century. The Spanish contributed immensely to the native culture's cuisine, bringing lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, and sugarcane as well.

The more you know about something's history, the more you can appreciate where it is now. Now that you've experienced an exceptionally brief history and explanation of the best Mexican cuisine, you can enjoy it even more! Buen provecho!

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