10 Latin American Staple Foods

Known for its diverse culture, Latin America is also famous for its delicious food. The evolution of food in Spanish-speaking Latin America is a reflection of its history and therefore a blend of cultures. The following 10 foods constitute important components of Latin American diet that many in Latin America eat on a daily basis. Most of these staples predate Columbian times and originated in the region.

1. Quinoa

First domesticated by Andean people 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, today’s greatest producers of quinoa are Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. It is a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Due to its popularity in recent years, the cost of the crop has raised in value, often making it inaccessible to the local communities to which it is indigenous.

2. Rice

In Costa Rica, rice is the main component of gallo pinto, consisting of rice and beans. Rice is also a staple food in other parts of Latin American, including Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Let’s not forget that even in Spain, the paella is its most famous dish. Rice was domesticated Asia and Africa 10,000 to 14,000 years ago.

3. Beans

In countries like the Dominican Republic, there is no rice without the beans. Often beans accompany rice, either or the side or mixed in one dish.  Five types of beans were domesticated by pre-Columbian people, including Chileans.

4. Corn tortillas

This pre-Columbian times staple was a favorite of the Aztecs, who would have it up to three times daily. It consists of unleavened flatbread made from white, yellow or blue maize dough. It is a staple in Mexico and Central America and can accompany almost any meal or be eaten alone.

5. Avocados

What’s there not to love about avocados? They are delicious on toast, tortillas, in salads and sandwiches. Because it has higher fat than other fruits, it is a good substitute for meat and fish, making it the perfect option for vegetarians and vegans. Remember: there is no guacamole without avocado! Deriving from the Spanish word aguacate, which in turn comes from the Nahuatl āhuacatl, avocados predate Columbian times and are thought to have originated in Mexico. Today, the world’s greatest avocado producers are Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Peru, home to the avocado anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 years ago.

6. Potatoes

According to the International Potato Center (yes, there is such a potato center!), over 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andean Highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador! Research suggests that Peru is its place of origin, north of Lake Titicaca, where it was cultivated over 8,000 years ago. Even though South America is home to such an extensive variety of potatoes,  the region has the world’s lowest level of potato production.

7. Plantains

Originally from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and West Africa, you can eat plantains fried, boiled, mashed, baked, steamed, as a main course, or as a side. You can have them green or ripe. Famous dishes include: mangú, mofongo, and tostones (fried plantains). They are a good source of magnesium, potassium, as well as vitamin B6 and C. Plantains fruit year-round, making them accessible during all seasons.

8. Cassava

This South American staple food stems from Brazil and predates Columbian times. Known as yuca in Spain and Latin America (and not to be confused with the completely different yucca plant), this staple provides a basic diet for over half a billion people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It is a major source of carbohydrates.

9. Chilli peppers

Essential for many Mexican, Central and South American dishes, chili peppers really add the spice to some of your favorites Latin American foods. They were domesticated in Mexico more than 6,000 years ago. China is the greatest producer of green chili peppers today.

10. Meat

Whether chicken, pork, or beef, meat is an important part of many Latin American meals. Argentina, for example, is world-famous for its beef and the way its meat preparation, called asado. Cattle was brought to Argentina by the Spaniards. 

La ñapa​

Here is the bonus…

11. Chocolate

OK, I know it doesn’t really count, but do you really want to be the person who points that out? Chocolate dates back to 1900 BC Guatemala and Mexico, where the Maya and Aztecs made a drink called xocolātl, hence the word “chocolate.” The bitter seeds, known as cacao, were a form of currency during the Aztec Empire. 

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