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Mexico’s Mesoamerican Treasure: Maize

Corn or Maize is a foundational staple in Mexico due to its influence on its religion, politics, and culinary culture.

In the Mesoamerican world, corn was foundational in multiple ways. Beyond food, maize was seen as an ingredient in the ancient world’s creation story. The Aztec goddess of Maize, Chichimecoatl, was thought to bring fertility and agricultural abundance. Often in the creation story myth of Mesoamerica, it was thought that corn dough (masa) is what made humans.

Through the culinary arts, the Mesoamerican world has invented the nixtamalization process. This is a chemical process that allows the dry corn to soften in cal (calcium hydroxide), provide additional nutrients, and grind the nixtamalized corn into masa for cooking purposes.

Within Mexico alone, there are approximately 59 varieties of indigenous heirloom corn. Each of these corns has its own color and flavor profile. The farming methods for corn have evolved from the traditional chinampas to the small local farmers within Mexico who now produce the only heirloom corn available in the nation, due to the rise of GMO corn in the 1990s.

However, masa alone in Mexican cuisine is known to create a diverse away of dishes that are still made today which include: tamales, sopes, atoles, huaraches, and more.

Despite the rise of GMO corn, farmers have found ways to keep their traditions alive by growing native corn. Maize and masa are essential to Mexico’s culinary world, along with its culture; it is Mexico’s soul.