Mexico's corn and chilli based cuisine takes its place at world table

Mexico's distinctive range of crops has not only determined the national diet but has also reached around the globe to influence cuisine everywhere

Mexico is a country of rich culinary history, with food making up an important part of its culture and traditions. 

Its cuisine reflects not just the diverse landscape and the countless crops produced there, but its links to cultures which span back thousands of years.

Authentic Mexican food is believed to have originated from the Mayan Indians, nomadic hunters whose diets mainly included wild game, tropical fruits and beans. 

Salsa made from an early kind of tomato was first sold in Aztec market places, as were avocados and cashews, while enchiladas have also been linked to the Aztecs.

Cocoa was also highly prized in the Aztec Empire, where it was used by the upper classes to make a thick chocolate drink, as well as being used as a currency.

There is archaeological evidence that chilli peppers were in use since 5000 BC, but in the 1300s chillies found their way into staple diets, along with honey and salt. 

Meanwhile, the Spanish invasion of 1521 saw the introduction of dairy products, garlic, wheat and livestock such as sheep, pigs and cows - as well the start of Mexican crops such as coca, tomatoes and chillies making their way to Europe.

Over the centuries cuisines including Caribbean, South American, French, West African and Portuguese have all had their influence on Mexican cooking, but it is one of the country’s oldest crops - corn - which has continued to shape Mexican diets.

Corn is a native crop to Mexico, having first been grown there more than 7000 years ago. Cultivated from a wild grass called teosinte, today there are more than 60 different varieties grown across the country. Its versatility as a crop means that production has steadily increased over the years. Corn is used in more than 4000 products ranging from oil and paint to toothpaste and paper, and its production has risen to more than 25m tonnes to meet demand.

It is the grain’s presence in Mexican food, however, which makes it especially significant to the country. Every day more than 300m corn-made tortillas are eaten by Mexican people, while corn is also a key ingredient in dishes including quesadillas, tacos, tamales, hopes and huaraches.

It is also at the heart of many meals which feature in national events, including the country’s national month in September, which features a celebration of Mexico’s independence.

Throughout the month restaurants prepare special menus which feature typical corn-based foods, as well as other national dishes such as pambazos, which consists of bread stuffed with potatoes and sausage; chillies in walnut sauce; and chicken with mole - a dish which includes cocoa, five types of chillies, tomatoes and spices.

Today Mexico’s diverse food is eaten around the world, with its dishes - and the crops the nation’s farmers produce - continuing to influence menus in other countries and cultures.

Mexican cuisine
Mexican Cuisine
Mexican Cuisine
Mexican cuisine