The Mayan civilisation existed in what is now Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Mayan ancestors were hunters but around 2,500 B.C., the people included farming in their way of living. The Mayans grew and ate a variety of foods and many of these foods are still common in Mexico today. The foods are also now grown and eaten in other parts of the world.
The Mayan people practised a type of farming known as "slash and burn" agriculture. Trees would be cut down in an area of the forest and then burnt. Crops were then sowed in May and harvested in November. In a few years, this method of farming would cause the soil to become infertile. Farmers would then slash and burn another part of the forest to give the infertile area a chance to become overgrown again -- it usually took two to three years. The ashes from the plants and trees provided a fertiliser to the soil. Farmers also drained swampland for farming. In addition to the communal fields, every family had a yard to grow some food.
Maize is also known as corn and mealies. Maize has been domesticated for thousands of years and was the staple grain of the Mayan empire. Maize was ground into flour and used to make tamales, tortillas, and to wrap a filling to make tacos. Maize was also used to make drinks. Many types of maize were planted, including blue maize.
Vegetables, Leaves and Herbs
The Mayan diet consisted of several types of vegetables that are well-known today. This includes squash, chillies, peppers, pumpkin, yam, cassava, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Leaves from different plants were also used in the Mayan cuisine. Food was often bundled and cooked in Maguey plant leaves to create a dish called mixiotes. Mixiotes is a dish that is still eaten in Mexico today. The Mayans also grew cilantro and a medicinal plant known as apazote.
Fruit, Nuts and Beans
The Mayan diet also included several types of fruit. This includes avocados, watermelon, papaya, guavas, tomatoes and limes. The Mayans also grew cashew nuts. Peanuts were another crop as well as other legumes.
Chocolate is one of the greatest gifts given to the world. The cocoa bean was so highly prized in the Aztec empire that is was also used as money. The word "chocolate" comes from the Mayan/Aztec word "chocolatl" but the Mayan chocolate was different from the hot chocolate of today because the Mayans did not use sugar. Instead they added spices to their thick chocolate drink as well as corn meal and peppers.
The Mayans collected algae -- known as tecuitlatl -- from lake water for its protein content. Bees were domesticated for their honey. The Mayans also fished and hunted. Hunting provided a variety of animals for food. This includes turkeys and turkey eggs, wild pigs, rabbits, iguana, duck, deer, dogs, and a rodent known as the agouti. Insects were also consumed, such as worms and grasshoppers.