The History of Mexican Cuisine

Mexican cuisine has a diverse history with global contribution with regard to staples and spices. Interestingly enough, not all these influences are of Hispanic origin.

Mayan influence

While strongly influenced by the Aztecs, Mexican cuisine may have deep Mayan roots, which makes sense given the Mayans' nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering. Corn tortillas filled with bean paste are one popular staple still consumed in modern times. You can't think of Mexican cuisine without tomatoes, black beans, avocados or papayas, which were basic foods of the Mayans as well.

Aztec influence

By the 14th century, the flourishing Aztec Empire had introduced honey, chocolate, chili peppers and salt to its people. In addition, domesticated game such as duck and turkey made its way into Mexican meals. Salsa dates back to Aztec times and was especially popular in marketplaces. In addition to tomatoes, it included chipotle and tomatillo.

Tamales have been around since at least the 1550s, when Bernardino de Sahagun referenced this Mexican staple. The Aztecs were probably the first people to use a tortilla as a wrap, although enchiladas were not mentioned until 1885.

Spanish influence

The Spanish invaders in the 16th century brought dairy foods and wheat to Mexico, along with garlic and other herbs and spices. These help give modern Mexican cuisine its distinct flavor. In addition, cows, sheep and pigs were assimilated into Mexican cuisine.

Other influences

Starting around the time of the Spanish invasion, Mexican cuisine also picked up other global influences, especially from France, the Caribbean, Portugal, West Africa and, of course, South America. That is why Mexican foods vary according to region.

Cooking methods

Because no ovens existed at that time in these civilizations, natives heated foods in skillets over open fires. They also steamed and fried foods as part of regular Mexican cuisine. One popular method included wrapping meat in banana or cactus leaves and suspending it over boiling water.

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