Maize: Past, Present & Future
Maize is the foundation of Mesoamerican societies and arguably Mexico’s greatest gift to the world. First domesticated thousands of years ago, maize gave rise to complex agricultural, social, economic and religious systems from the Olmecs to the Mayans, Zapotecs to Mixtecs, and every indigenous culture in between.
For the native people of Mesoamerica, the sacred grain was considered a gift from the gods. In the Mayan book of creation, Pohol Vuh, humans were molded from masa, or corn dough. Rituals involving maize marked the beginning and end of life as well as each stage of the harvest. For millennia, maize was the heartbeat of Mesoamerica.
During the 16th century conquest of Mexico, conquistadors who compared maize to their Eucharistic wheat suppressed its cultivation. They treated the scared grain with disdain and relegated maize products in their own homeland, to the fringes of society. This attitude even appeared in the country’s early cookbooks, where bread and European wheat were associated with the Spanish upper classes while maize made a rare appearance.
A movement emerged in the early 20th century that celebrated Mexico’s indigenous past and brought a revival of interest in its ancestral crops. Over time, attitudes shifted and a reverence for maize unified diverse ethnic groups and social classes.
Today, more than a crop, maize is a cultural symbol intrinsic to Mexican identity. Cooks and farmers who, for centuries, have passed seeds from generation to generation, guard the land as hallowed ground and serve as stewards of their rich history and tradition.