Can you imagine spaghetti without tomato sauce? How about a world without French fries, chocolate bars, or popcorn? If you like any of these foods, you can thank the peoples of the ancient Americas who cultivated tomatoes, potatoes, cocoa and corn before the rest of the world learned about them.
We think of chocolate as a sweet treat. While this wasn't always true, the scientific name of the cacao tree is Cacao Theobroma, meaning "food of the gods," which most people would agree is a good name. Cacao beans were first used to make a bitter, spicy drink for Aztec and Mayan religious ceremonies. The beans were so valued, that at one time, cacao beans were even used as money.
Baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, french-fried potatoes, potato pancakes, potato chips, potatoes in stew. Potatoes are grown and eaten all over the world, but were first cultivated by the Incas living in the Andes of current day Peru. Take a look at the article in New Book of Knowledge, searching for "potato" to learn more (you'll need your library card handy if you're outside the library).
Like cacao, corn and popcorn were used for ceremonies. Aztecs included corn in sculptures and popcorn as part of decoration for headdresses and necklaces. The Maya creation story says the first grandparents were made from white and yellow corn, and they based their calendar in part on the growing cycle of corn. The Aztec, Maya and Inca peoples ate popcorn too. The ancestor of modern corn is a grain called teosinte. It has just a few kernels on each stalk. The kernels are too hard to eat or grind into flour, but teosinte can pop! Check out this video to see kernels popping.
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