Mexican cuisine began about 9,000 years ago, when agricultural communities such as the Maya formed, domesticating maize, creating the standard process of maize nixtamalization, and establishing their foodways. Successive waves of other Mesoamerican groups brought with them their own cooking methods. These included the Olmec, Teotihuacanos, Toltec, Huastec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Otomi, Purépecha, Totonac, Mazatec, Mazahua, and Nahua. The Mexica formation of the Aztec Empire created a multi-ethnic society where many different foodways became infused. The staples are native foods, such as corn (maize), beans, squash, amaranth, chia, avocados, tomatoes, tomatillos, cacao, vanilla, agave, turkey, spirulina, sweet potato, cactus, and chili pepper.
After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the 16th century and the subsequent conquest of the Maya area, Europeans introduced a number of other foods, the most important of which were meats from domesticated animals (beef, pork, chicken, goat, and sheep), dairy products (especially cheese and milk), and rice. While the Spanish initially tried to impose their own diet on the country, this was not possible. Asian and African influences were also introduced into the indigenous cuisine during this era as a result of African slavery in New Spain and the Manila-Acapulco Galleons.
Over the centuries, this resulted in regional cuisines based on local conditions, such as those in Oaxaca, Veracruz and the Yucatán Peninsula. Mexican cuisine is an important aspect of the culture, social structure and popular traditions of Mexico. The most important example of this connection is the use of mole for special occasions and holidays, particularly in the South and Central regions of the country. For this reason and others, traditional Mexican cuisine was inscribed in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Mexican cuisine is a complex and ancient cuisine, with techniques and skills developed over thousands of years of history. It is created mostly with ingredients native to Mexico, as well as those brought over by the Spanish conquistadors, with some new influences since then. Mexican cuisine has been influenced by its proximity to the US-Mexican border. For example, burritos were thought to have been invented for easier transportation of beans by wrapping them in tortillas for field labor. Modifications like these brought Mexican cuisine to the United States, where states like Arizona further adapted burritos by deep frying them, creating the modern chimichanga.
In addition to staples, such as corn and chile peppers, native ingredients include tomatoes, squashes, avocados, cocoa and vanilla, as well as ingredients not generally used in other cuisines, such as edible flowers, vegetables like huauzontle and papaloquelite, or small criollo avocados, whose skin is edible. Chocolate originated in Mexico and was prized by the Aztecs. It remains an important ingredient in Mexican cookery.
Vegetables play an important role in Mexican cuisine. Common vegetables include zucchini, cauliflower, corn, potatoes, spinach, Swiss chard, mushrooms, jitomate (red tomato), green tomato, etc. Other traditional vegetable ingredients include Chili pepper, huitlacoche (corn fungus), huauzontle, and nopal (cactus pads) to name a few. European contributions include pork, chicken, beef, cheese, herbs and spices, as well as some fruits.
Tropical fruits, many of which are indigenous to Mexico and the Americas, such as guava, prickly pear, sapote, mangoes, bananas, pineapple and cherimoya (custard apple) are popular, especially in the center and south of the country. Edible insects have been enjoyed in Mexico for millennia. Entemophagy or insect-eating is becoming increasingly popular outside of poor and rural areas for its unique flavors, sustainability, and connection to pre-Hispanic heritage. Popular species include chapulines (grasshoppers or crickets), escamoles (ant larvae), cumiles (stink bugs) and ahuatle (water bug eggs).
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