Our Connection is Evident in the Origin of Foods
We take for granted that we can find most crops almost anywhere in the world. Walk into a grocery store and it is likely we’ll find bananas, kiwis, black pepper, corn, and various other spices and produce, regardless of where they originate from, be it Ecuador, New Zealand, Chile, India, Mexico, or somewhere locally.
But that is not as it was. In fact, corn, vanilla, and avocados are native crops to Mexico and Central America, and cacao, tomatoes, and potatoes are native to the Andean region of South America (Island Press, 2009).
Globalization of food production enables us to grow crops outside of their native environments, and while this is convenient, it also has created a greater connection amongst us that we now may take for granted.
The extent of our interconnectedness is awe inspiring. Let me show this by telling you about the origin of black pepper, potatoes, and limes.
King of Spices: Black Pepper
Black pepper, also known as the King of Spices, was the culprit behind the start of the spice trade between Asia and Europe several hundred years ago, and it still dominates global spice trade. Black pepper, Piper nigrum, accounts for ¼ of the spice production in world (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005).
Black pepper is indigenous to India. Other than for its culinary value, black pepper was so valuable it was used as currency. It was coveted such that it drove the Portuguese to India, and eventually Columbus to the Americas. Of course, Columbus didn’t find black pepper. Instead, he contributed to spreading chilli’s and other peppers, which originated in Mexico and Central America, to Europe and eventually on to Asia (Khoury et al., 2016).
In addition to imparting flavor to food, black pepper was used as a preservative, and as a means to disguise the lack of freshness of food. It also helps to stimulate digestion, absorb nutrients in food, and support the detoxification process of the body (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005).
For all its qualities, black pepper was most impactful in encouraging world exploration and developing merchant cities throughout Asia and Europe. It is still one of the most commonly used spices around the world.
A Staple of Many: Potatoes
Chillis and peppers were not the only food that the Spanish conquistadores took from the Americas to other parts of the world. Potatoes, Solanum tuberosum, are native to the Andean region, particularly Peru and Bolivia. They have been cultivated there for thousands of years. When the Spanish explorers took it back to Europe, it became a staple to many, particularly Ireland and United Kingdom. From there, the crop spread to other parts of Europe, Asia, and the United States, where they have also become a staple food.
Currently, the US is the top consumer and the top producer of potatoes, and 40% of these are used in fast-food companies such as McDonald’s. Other producers include Russia, Poland, India, and China (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005).
Despite, their bad rap, potatoes are highly nutritious. They are a good source of nutrients, fiber, and protein. Their bad rap is due to the preparation in fried and other high calorie forms, but on their own they are not high in calories.
They are also good for the skin. In fact, they can help soothe and heal burns and skin infections when prepared as a boiled potato peel dressing, as has been discovered in India and other countries (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005).
A Prime Source of Vitamin C: Limes
Limes, Citrus aurantifolia, is perhaps the most well-known citrus fruit, and it is commonly regarded as a good source of Vitamin C. Early explorers consumed limes to prevent scurvy. In several areas within West Africa, they have been known to prevent and treat cholera, given that they have an antibiotic effect. They are also a good source of potassium, folic acid, and other nutrients (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005).
Limes made their way around the world in the opposite direction of potatoes. They are native to South East Asia and made their way to North Africa by Arab traders, and later to Spain by Moors. Columbus then took them to the New World. Currently, they are grown in the United States, Mexico, and Brazil (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005).
Black pepper, potatoes, and limes are vital to many cultures and recipes. When we use them, we don’t realize that they were once originally grown in selected and limited parts of the world. However, our drive to explore and discover the unknown, spread their cultivation and use throughout the world, connecting us through the development of food, culture, and tradition.
Khoury, C.K., Achicanoy, H.A., Bjorkman, A.D., Navarro-Racines, C., Guarino, L., Flores-Palacios, X., Engels, J.M.M., Wiersema, J.H., Dempewolf, H., Sotelo, S., Ramírez-Villegas, J., Castañeda-Álvarez, N.P., Fowler, C., Jarvis, A., Rieseberg, L.H., & Struik, P.C. (2016). Origins of food crops connect countries worldwide. Proceedings of the Royal Society of B: Biological Sciences, 283: 20160792. https://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2016.0792
Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.New York, NY: Atria Books.
Island Press. (2009, September 28). “Where Our Food Comes From” With Gary Paul Nabhan [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/8ZQoCxjDRAI