THE CORN: A Mesoamerican food for the world

"The invention of corn by Mexicans is only comparable to the invention of fire by man"

Octavio Paz

Corn is the most important species in Mexico. Its domestication, thousands of years ago, made it an apt plant to feed the peoples, in addition to being a participant in the economic, social and religious characteristics of the Mesoamerican peoples. The place that this occupied in these towns was not only in the field of food to subsist, but was also a central element in the worldview of these towns, the performance of rituals and life revolved around their cultivation and harvest.

The word Maíz is of Caribbean origin that was brought to Mexico by the Spanish. It is known in different ways in the Nahuatl language: tlaolli, which also designates the grains; xîlotl, when the cob was very tender; élotl, when the kernels of the cob were already formed and when the cob was dry, it was known as centli.

Corn is a species native to Mexico that belongs to the Poaceae family, which includes other foods such as oats, wheat, barley, rye and rice. Corn belongs to the Zea genus, which comprises five other species originating from Mexico and other Central American countries.

This cereal grows annually and in Mexico it is cultivated on almost 7 million hectares, where practically all its cultivation is dedicated to internal consumption. Thanks to recent studies on the genetic makeup of corn, corn grown in Mexico and other countries has been found to come from a wild species called teosinte.

In various excavations, the Tehuacán region, in the state of Puebla, has been found in a cave of San Marcos, the remains of ancient ears of corn from around 3000 B.C.

Although the first use of corn is as food, there are other products derived from it that are important: such as glucose, antibiotics, fodder, ethanol, as well as biodegradable plastics, among others.

Currently, its uses can be found in ecological products that seek to counteract environmental contamination: the corn leaves that are commonly used in the elaboration of the tamale, seek to generalize their use to replace disposable dishes, for example.

Another example is Belu, natural mineral water, which launched the first fully plastic and biodegradable water bottle in Great Britain, made 100% from a corn resource. Thus, we also find another example of the use of corn for the production of biodegradable plastics.

The relationship between he corn, both between pre-Hispanic peoples and between contemporary indigenous peoples, has been very close and, beyond the aspect of meeting a biological need, has played an important role in their daily life. Since corn for it to develop and grow fruitfully, it has to receive a lot of care at different stages of its reproductive cycle, which, if not fulfilled, the spirit of corn can leave and then people will starve and become impoverished. It is one of the reasons why the life of this food is contemplated in the daily life of the peoples.

Corn is usually sown in April, and six months later, in October, its harvest is received, and if it was good, then it means that the spirit of corn is happy with the care received.

Source: Cultivos mesoamericanos, Arqueologia Mexicana, Febrero 2019, num 84

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