maya corn-godThe Corn God rules Cancun, the Mayan Riviera, the Yucatan, Mexico and the World. Corn (maize), the most widely cultivated crop in the western hemisphere (first in the world by tonnage), is like its cousin Wheat, a grass. Corn is only one of the native American foods that now form 60 percent of the world’s diet. Almost every food in Latin America is served on a tortilla.

Both archaeological and botanical studies point to its domestication in the Balsas River valley of Mexico, 8,700 to 12,000 years ago. It is unknown what precipitated this event, since the original plant was inedible. Perhaps as early as 1500 BC, Maize had become the staple food of most pre-Columbian American cultures, forming the identity of the peoples and assuming great religious and spiritual significance. According to the Popol Vuh, a sacred book of the Maya, the gods created humans out of yellow and white corn, after failed attempts with mud and wood. The Aztec, who had over 100 gods, ranked Cinteotl, the maize god, third in importance behind the supreme Huitzilopochtli and the rain god Tlaloc. All were worshipped with human sacrifices.

The indigenous Americans had learned over the eons to soak maize in an alkali water of ashes and slacked lime (nixtamalization) to unblock the B-vitamin niacin. An epidemic of Pellagra in parts of the U.S that had turned to corn as a staple was the result of a lack of this knowledge. Besides the missing niacin, the staple of corn in the southern U.S. also resulted in protein deficiency due to the lack of two key amino acids lysine and tryptophan. Native Americans had avoided this by combining beans with their diet of corn.metate

Masa (cornmeal treated with lime water) becomes the tortilla and “Bread of Life” to the indigenous populations of the Americas. It is served at every meal. Anyone fortunate enough to see an Indian woman on her knees at the Metate must appreciate the fact that she is indeed worshipping her god. Ground and cooked into a porridge, corn constitutes a staple food in many regions of the world. From polenta in Italy, to mush in the U.S. to atole in Latin America.

The Conquistadors were introduced to a rich and varied Aztec and Mayan diet of corn, chiles, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, guavas, peanuts, chocolate, vanilla, papaya, mamey, pineapple, strawberries, jicama, squash, sweet potato, grouper, red snapper, mojarra, snook, lobsters, crab, oysters, turkey, iguana, rattlesnake, deer, spider monkey, dog, wild pig, and various insects (if it moved it was “fair game”). The Spainards melded their own diet of rice, beef, pork, chicken, wheat, wine, garlic, olives, cinnamon, radishes, grapes, oranges, sugarcane, chickpeas, melons, lettuce and onions with the local fare to produce the classic “Mexican Cuisine. The introduction of rice and wheat into the Mexican diet was of major importance and chicken has become the primary source of protein.

Chiles have been a staple ingredient in Mexican recipes for thousands of years and are eaten on everything, including fruit and melon. Mexicans cook with more than 200 different chiles ranging from mild to scorching. The chile of choice on the Riviera Maya and in the Cancun restaurants is the Habanero, looking like a yellow plum and one of the hottest.

“Rojo o Verde (red or green)?” is a question that a waiter may ask you, referring to which color of chile sauce you prefer. Jalapenos, tomatoes and cilantro are mixed with Mediterranean staples of olive oil, garlic, onions, capers and olives to prepare Salsa Fresca and Pico de Gallo (rooster’s beak). The ingredients are chopped by hand and never blended. Limes are almost as important as chiles and appear in a great many dishes ranging from soups and salads to drinks and desserts.

Mole, a sauce made of unique combinations of more than 20 ingredients including chiles, chocolate, sesame seed, peanuts, almonds and tomatoes, will be found at the finest Mexican tables.

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