No tomatoes in Italy? No vanilla in France? No potatoes in Ireland? Yes, the entire culinary landscape of the planet would be completely different if it wasn't for these native foods. By the way, for the sake of this list we are using the term America in the larger geographical context, to include North, Central, and South America.
Photo © Flickr user nate steiner
The avocado is the pear-shaped fruit of a tree native to Mexico and Central America. There is evidence it has been cultivated in Central America since 5,000 BC. The Mayans believed the avocado had magical powers and was an aphrodisiac. In fact, the name comes from the Aztec word for this fruit "ahuacat" which means "testicle."
Avocado's amazing silky texture is due to its high fat content of over 20%. Even though high in fat, it's the beneficial mono-unsaturated type. Sailors used to call avocados "butter pears" and actually used the flesh as one would use butter. California is the largest producer of avocados in America. While there are many varieties grown, the most popular is the "Hass" variety.
Try this avocado and grapefruit salad
Photo © Flickr user flattop341
Chili peppers, both hot and sweet, are a common ingredient in almost every major cuisine worldwide. It's hard to image a time when there were no peppers in Asia, or Europe, but it all began over 10,000 years ago in the Americas. Peppers were clearly one of the first crops grown by the Native Americans. From Peru, up to New Mexico, these prehistoric people grew chili peppers for both their culinary, and medicinal benefits.
Christopher Columbus is credited with naming them "peppers" because he thought they tasted like Asian spice (the peppercorn variety). After being brought back to Europe they quickly spread around the globe, especially thriving in the tropics.
Without chili peppers, there wouldn't be any chili recipes
Photo © Flickr user EverJean
Can you imagine a world without chocolate? It is a scary thought. It's produced from the seeds of the cacao tree, which is native to South America. Cacao has been grown for over 3,000 years in Central America and Mexico. The Maya and Aztecs cultures both used the cacao beans, but it was not the sweet treat we think of today. It was fermented and made into a drink that was often flavored with chili peppers as well. Our modern chocolate is made from cocoa, which produced from the roasted, and ground, cacao beans.
What better way to experience chocolate, than a triple chocolate cake recipe
Photo © Flickr user WayTru
Native Americans were cultivating "maize" in what is now Mexico over 5,000 years ago. The term "corn" was actually a generic English word for any granular particle, most often used when referring to other cereal grains. The early English settlers called the Native tribe's staple crop "Indian grain," then "Indian corn" which was later shortened to just "corn." Corn was vital in the survival of the first European settlers, as it produces much more grain from an acre of land than any other crop, and can be eaten fresh and stored for long periods dry.
This corn chowder
has been a favorite since colonial times.
Photo © Flickr user tamakisono
I wonder how many people in Thailand realize that their national dish "Som Tam," which is a sweet and spicy salad made from unripe, green papaya, is based on a fruit that was originally cultivated in tropical America thousands of years ago. You say you've never had papaya? Chances are you have, since an enzyme called papain, which is extracted from papaya, is the most common ingredient in all those tenderizing meat rubs you've been seasoning you're T-bone with!
Photo © Flickr user laffy4k
There is evidence that peanuts were domesticated in South America over 7,00 years ago. To a cook, a peanut is certain nut, but to a botanist it's technically a "woody, indehiscent legume." That's right it’s really a bean. Somehow "woody, indehiscent legume" butter and jelly sandwich doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Today, China is the world's largest producer of peanuts. It was brought to China by the Portuguese in the 1600's, and became a very popular addition to many dishes, as anyone who frequents Chinese restaurant knows.
Photo © Flickr user visualdensity
The word "pineapple" was originally an old European term for what's now call pinecones. When the explorers discovered this fruit in the American tropics, they called them "pineapples" because they thought they looked very similar. Like papaya, pineapple also contains an enzyme that breaks down protein, which was used by the Native Americans to tenderize meat.
Photo © Flickr user maesejose
This starchy tuber's origins are traced back to the prehistoric mountains of Argentina. It eventually migrated up through all the Americas and was eventually taken back to Europe where it found many homes, Ireland being the most famous. While there were originally only a handful of varieties cultivated, today there are over 5,000 varieties. Interestingly, the commercial varieties that Americans currently enjoy were actually developed in Europe.
Check out these great "gourmet" mashed potato recipes
Photo © Flickr user visualdensity
The exact dates and location of the first tomatoes are still debated, but most sources agree it's indigenous to South America. The Mayans were the first people we know used the tomato to cook with. It was spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world via the Spanish explorers.
It took a while for the tomato to become accepted as a food in colonial America, where many held on to the old belief that the plant was poisonous. It is part of the deadly nightshade family of plants. They were commonly grown as ornamental plants for their bright fruits and dark green foliage. Can you imagine life without pizza
Photo © Flickr user joyosity
Vanilla, originating in Mexico, is produced from the long, thin pods of an orchid plant. The name is derived from the Spanish term for "little pod." The French fell in love with the vanilla bean and planted it in their tropical colonies, such as Madagascar, where most of the world's vanilla beans are now grown. The Aztecs considered vanilla an aphrodisiac, and that reputation has survived to this day.