When Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sailed west in 1492, he discovered a lot more than just new people and new land. He discovered new kinds of food that Europeans had never heard of or seen, eventually changing the global food landscape forever.
Columbus brought these newly discovered foods back to Europe and subsequently to European colonies in Asia and Africa, and they spread like fire. The following is a list of 10 most domesticated crops we owe to the Indigenous peoples of the ancient Americas:
10. Maize (Corn)
Most historians believe all maize arose from a single domestication in southern Mexico about 9,000 years ago. Later, maize spread from this region over the Americas.
Papaya origin is in the tropics of the Americas, from southern Mexico and neighboring Central America. Papayas are thought to have been first cultivated by Maya civilization 4,000 years ago.
The peanut is native to South America and the Indians of South America were growing peanuts 1000 years ago. Peanuts are thought to have been first domesticated in ancient Bolivia.
7. Chili Pepper
Chili peppers originated in Mexico at least 7,000 years ago. After the Columbian Exchange, many cultivated plants of chili pepper spread across the world, used for both food and traditional medicine.
The Pineapple is indigenous to South America and is said to originate from the area between southern Brazil and Paraguay. The natives of Brazil and Paraguay spread pineapple throughout Southern America, eventually reaching the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico, where it was cultivated by the Mayas and the Aztecs civilization.
The potato was first domesticated in the region of Peru and Bolivia between 8000 and 5000 BC. They were first introduced to Europe in the second half of the 16th century by the Spanish.
Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America and was domesticated 3,000 to 5,000 years ago for human consumption in the Lake Titicaca basin of Peru and Bolivia. Quinoa was a staple crop to Inca, Aymara, and Quechua peoples.
Archaeological investigations have found evidence of domestication of Squash going back over 8,000 years from the very southern parts of Canada down to Argentina and Chile. The Indians introduced the squash to Columbus and his followers in the 14th century.
The name squash comes from “askutasquash”, a word from the Narragansett Indian language, meaning “a green thing eaten uncooked”.
Sunflower is one of the few crop species that originated in North America and was domesticated by native American tribes possibly 1000 BC ago – and then carried it to eastern and southern regions of North America. The first Europeans observed sunflower cultivated in many places from southern Canada to Mexico.
Tomato is used as a cultivated food may have originated with the indigenous peoples of Aztecs in Central Mexico. The Spanish discovered the tomato from their contact with the Aztec peoples during the Spanish colonization of the Americas, then brought it to Europe, and, from there, to other parts of the European colonized world during the 16th century.