Spanish Language Blog

Mexican Origins of Food Posted by on Oct 1, 2007 in Spanish Culture

Traditional Mexican flavors are increasingly featured in today’s cultural trends: chipotle in adobo, habanero and jalapeño are spicing up menus across the country, whereas the tortilla is increasingly used as a means of utensil-free eating. It is easy to recognize the south-of-the-border heritage of these ingredients, and yet there are a number of foods we might not identify as originating in Mexico. Take chocolate, for instance. The cacao bean was first introduced to Europe by Hernán Cortés, who first saw it used by the Aztecs. Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor at the time of the conquest, would often indulge in chocolate beverages, deemed a royal privilege, several times a day (although the absence of sugar and milk on the American continent made for a much more bitter, unappetizing substance than what we have today). The early conquistadores were also responsible for bringing foods to Europe that we now strongly associate with their adoptive countries: the potato was exported to Ireland from Peru, while Italy received the tomato from Mexico. Initially shunned because they contained a chemical considered poisonous, thankfully popular opinion shifted and these ingredients were converted into staples of the European diet, and economy.

As you expand your Spanish food vocabulary, take note of how the Spanish word sometimes reveals the food’s Mexican origin. In culinary vocabulary, the suffix “ate” comes from the Nahuatl word “atl”, or water. The suffix “ote” also derives from this same language. A few examples:

  • aguacate avocado
  • chocolate chocolate
  • cacahuate peanut
  • tomate/jitomate tomato
  • camote sweet potato
  • elote corn on the cob
  • epazote epazote, a common herb similar in taste to cilantro
  • guajolote (pavo) turkey
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