Unlike many other ancient civilizations, the Maya of the past have resisted the passage of time, and many people still call themselves part of the Maya culture today. It is because of this that we can observe today's Maya and find out what kind of eating habits the ancient Maya had.
The central ingredients of the Maya culture are corn, beans, and squash. This basic diet has remained consistent for centuries. However, the modern Maya diet differs from the ancient one in that it has incorporated European foods that were unknown to the ancient Maya, such as rice, wheat, chicken, and pigs.
Of the central diet, corn was perhaps the most important food and source of nutrients. Maya prepared corn in a process as to extract its highest nutritional value. First, they dried the kernels and removed them from the cob. After this process, the Maya soaked these kernels in a solution of water and lime, thereby removing the casings from each kernel. In doing so, the Maya exposed the amino acids found in corn, and also a number of other nutrients. The corn would then be ground up and used to make tortillas, somewhat like a flat, dry pancake.
Beans for the Maya were a major source of protein. They were also mashed up and wrapped up inside tortillas to make something like the first burrito. Squash came in many different varieties, and the Maya used all of the squash. They ate the raw flesh as it was, and also dried and roasted the seeds as a nutritional snack.
Chilies were used as condiments to spice up the rather drab beans. Other fruits and vegetables, like the avocado, papaya, guava, and breadnut, were either cultivated or collected from the wild.
In terms of meat, turkey was, and is, the most common meat eaten by the Maya. It is a major component of a soup used at many ceremonies. Although meat was not the hub of the Mayan diet, a wide variety of animals were eaten: from rabbits to armadillos, monkeys to tapirs and macaws.
Perhaps food distribution was the highlight of the Maya economy. In any civilization, a process known as intensification occurs when the population increases, and the food output needs to increase. The Maya civilization was expert in the field of intensification. Markets were one manner of distributing food. The Maya of today often hold markets once or twice a week - usually on religious days or celebrations. There is little evidence that the Maya of ancient times, however, had an efficient market system. A few Spanish conquerors reported seeing ramshackle markets set up in certain localities.
Much more prominent in Maya economics was trade. For some reason, the Maya did not employ beasts of burden nor did they employ wheeled vehicles. Virtually all goods that were traded or transported by Maya were transported on the backs of human laborers.
The mighty Maya of the past have been exploited and now they are only a trickle of their past. Modern foods are replacing their rich culture.
|Learn some food terms in the Ancient Mayan tongue, deciphered by scholars.|
|Find out more about Maya food.|