delanceyplace.com 9/2/10 - the new world and new food

In today's encore excerpt - Columbus's discovery of America brought new foods, including tomatoes, potatoes, corn, squash, and sugar, that transformed the European diet:

"Before Columbus, the diet of Europeans had remained basically unchanged for tens of thousands of years, based mainly on oats, barley, and wheat. Within a quarter century of his first voyage, the European diet became richer, more varied, and more nutritious. As Roger Schlesinger wrote in his book, In the Wake of Columbus: 'As far as dietary habits are concerned, no other series of events in all world history brought as much significant change as did [the discovery of the Americas].' The list of foods that made their way into Europe is extensive and includes maize (corn), squash, pumpkin, avocado, papaya, cassava, vanilla, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes (yams), strawberries and beans of almost every variety.

"The potato was one of the first American foods to be transported to Europe. Valued by the conquistadores, they made it a key item in the diet of their sailors. The potato then spread to England and Scotland, and to Ireland where it became the staple of the Irish diet.

"It was also the Spanish who discovered the tomato, first distributing it throughout their Caribbean possessions and then bringing it to Europe. In both Italy and Great Britain, the tomato was first thought to be poisonous, and it was not until the 1700s that the fruit became widely eaten. As was the case with sweet potatoes, which were regarded by some Europeans as having aphrodisiac-like qualities, the tomato was also viewed in some circles as having medicinal value. ... Actually, some of these claims may not have been as farfetched as they seem since many Old World ailments were caused by the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. ...

"Tapioca, also made from cassava root, eventually became a European delicacy, as did a drink made from the cocoa plant. By the time that Hernan Cortes and his men witnessed Aztecs drinking chocolatl, South and Central American natives had been consuming the beverage for hundreds of years. ...

"As diet-transforming as all these newly introduced foods became, sugar, perhaps had the greatest impact of all. As ever-increasing amounts of sugar were transported from New World plantations to Europe, the types of foods that were eaten, and just as significantly the ways in which they were cooked, were changed forever. Before the early 1500s, sugar was sold in European apothecary shops where, because of its scarcity, only the rich could afford it. But as sugar-laden ships arrived in Old World ports, prices tumbled and sugar became an important foodstuff for the masses. At the time, honey was both expensive and in short supply, but even if that had not been the case, most people found sugar to be a much more desirable sweetener As a result, tea and coffee drinking gained a popularity that would never diminish.

"Even more important, the availability of sugar led to the proliferation of confections and jams that soon graced tables throughout Europe. ...

"Sugar's impact on the European diet went way beyond jams and confections and the sweetening of tea, coffee, and other beverages. Such leftover foods as rice and bread could now be given new life and a whole new taste when sprinkled with sugar and reheated. Fruits and vegetables could be inexpensively preserved when immersed in a sugary syrup. Sugar's popularity also led to the introduction of a host of new cooking utensils and accoutrements, including new types of saucepans, pie plates, cookie molds, sugar pots, sugar spoons and tongs."


author:

Martin W. Sandler

title:

Atlantic Ocean: The Illustrated History of the Ocean that Changed the World

publisher:

Sterling Publishing Co, Inc.

date:

Copyright 2008 by Martin W. Sandler

pages:

92-100
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