The rediscovery of native “super-foods” in Mexico

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In this chapter, we examine the fate of three traditional foodstuffs and beverages specific to the indigenous cultures of Mexico which were rejected, despised or prohibited by the colonisers or, later, by the upper classes, and are presently eliciting enthusiasm as health or gourmet foods; a pseudocereal, amaranth (Amaranthus spp., Chenopodium spp.); edible insects; and a fermented drink, pulque, drawn from the sap of the century plant (Agave spp.). Due to the quality of their nutrients, these three products may be considered as 'super-food’, and definitely be classified as ‘traditional food’, since they have been consumed by the autochtonous people of Mexico for centuries. We analyse why these foods were rejected at some point, while the consumption of other traditional foods, such as maize and beans, was never questioned. We show that such dynamics varied according to periods and places: at the beginning of the 16th century, the Spanish clergy prohibited ‘pagan’ offerings, often made of amaranth, and probably disdained its consumption; most Spaniards rejected insects, while they adopted pulque, that the elites started to despise only until the end of the 19th century. Why and how a change in the appreciation of these foods and drinks has occurred over time and why they are valued today, constitute also the questions that we aim at developing in this article.

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... A study of these characteristics will allow us to have a better idea of how accepted the practice of consuming insects is among the population of an ambivalent country about this topic (Cetina-García, 2015; Katz and Lazos, 2017). This is because, on the one hand, Mexico has a tradition or reports of insect consumption as traditional, anchored to its indigenous heritage, but, on the other hand, it receives significant influence from international trade, information and customs, reinforced or strengthened by the 3,152 km of the border that it shares with the United States of America, the greatest economic power in the world (330 million inhabitants and 9.6 million km 2 of surface) (NM, 2022;Roser et al., 2022). ...
... (2012) and as described in the introduction, around 549 species of edible insects are available in Mexico, reporting a larger collection in central and southern regions of the country, where there is a higher percentage of the indigenous population (Ramos-Elorduy et al., 2012;Katz and Lazos, 2017). Therefore, is the greater availability of these products the reason behind the results reported in Figure 1? ...
Mexico is a multi‐diverse country where insect consumption has been associated with traditional practices. Nevertheless, there are no studies regarding differences in entomophagy within the country to get specific insights into consumers' perceptions. A total of 3,125 Mexicans answered a national survey related to demographic indicators and aspects of edible insects. The χ2 test was used (p<0.05) to analyze the data. Results showed that a national average of 74% had consumed insects, mainly from the south and center. Demographic characteristics demonstrated that the northern region had a significantly higher monthly income (>952 USD) and educational level (postgraduate), declaring a consumption of “once in a lifetime” (more than 50%). The word clouds analysis showed remarkable differences among regions, in the north and center the word "curiosity" was the most found; in the central region, the word "chapulines" (grasshoppers); and in the south, the term "gastronomy". Marketing aspects such as availability, price, and variety significantly trigger increasing insect consumption by understanding regional differences to produce specific strategies and formulations.
... Today, there is experimental evidence for the positive effect of consumption of amaranth laddoo made from popped seeds on hemoglobin and RBC count in young girls [99]. In the Western world, for example in Mexico, commercial production of the amaranth candy "alegria" and the drink "atole" dates back to the sixteenth century [100]. Similarly, the leaves of the plant are known to be utilized for preparing porridge in Africa. ...
... Today, there is experimental evidence for the positive effect of consumption of amaranth laddoo made from popped seeds on hemoglobin and RBC count in young girls [99]. In the Western world, for example in Mexico, commercial production of the amaranth candy "alegria" and the drink "atole" dates back to the sixteenth century [100]. Similarly, the leaves of the plant are known to be utilized for preparing porridge in Africa. ...
Several species of Amaranthus have a long history of consumption as a vegetable/cereal and usage in traditional medicine. A great miscellany of healthful compounds such as fatty acids, steroids, lipids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and bioactives, including alkaloids, flavonoids, glycosides, phenolic acids, saponins, terpenoids, tannins, and carotenoids have been found in Amaranthus seeds, roots, stem, and leaves, depending on the plant maturity stage, cultivar type, and geographical location. Preclinical studies have shown that the extracts and bioactive constituents of Amaranthus spp. confer several biological activities, including antioxidant, immunomodulatory, hepatoprotective, gastroprotective, cardioprotective, hypolipidemic, anticancerous, antidiabetic, and antimicrobial, which has ignited the interest of researchers in this modest vegetable all over the world. Although some potential health benefit-based mechanistic studies are available, a need exists to investigate in-depth the roles of these specific bioactives sourced from Amaranthus for their potential use in disease treatment and daily diet for a holistic well-being. Lately, investigators have also started to examine the use of amaranth leaves and seeds for the development of fortified food products whose consumption can lead to beneficial biological effects. Conversely, the plant is still missing recognition in the pharmaceutical and commercial food packaging sectors. The present chapter provides a detailed exploration of current research on the bioactive-constituents of amaranth, its use in traditional medicine, clinical studies validating traditional claims and recent trends in usage of this underutilized vegetable as a nutraceutical and functional food. This insight will be beneficial for encouraging exhaustive research which will promote effective utilization of amaranth.
... Entre tales factores se encuentran la desarticulación de las grandes haciendas magueyeras por el reparto agrario después de la Revolución Mexicana, la paulatina debacle de los sistemas agrícolas tradicionales, sustituyéndolos por agricultura industrializada y el reemplazo de actividades primarias a terciarias; además del desprestigio cultural hacia el pulque en sustitución por bebidas alcohólicas de "mayor prestigio", principalmente la cerveza, lo que representó no solo prejuicios morales, sino legislaciones que dificultaron el manejo de pulque en el país, como el incremento de impuestos a la venta y producción de pulque y la eliminación de las licencias para abrir pulquerías en las ciudades desde 1954 (Warman 2001;El Tinacal, 2012;Katz y Lazos, 2017;Ramírez-Rodríguez, 2018). Esto ha generado una fuerte disminución de los sistemas de manejo de maguey pulquero. ...
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RESUMEN El pulque es una bebida fermentada elaborada con la savia de 46 taxa de Agave. Durante el siglo XIX y parte del XX la elaboración de pulque fue una de las actividades productivas más prósperas de México, no obstante, su éxito se desplomó debido a un entramado de factores políticos, económicos y ecológicos. Este trabajo evalúa el estado actual de cinco sistemas de manejo de maguey pulquero en México: 1) magueyeras extensivas (Tlaxcala), 2) magueyeras remanentes (Ciudad de México), 3) "metepantles" (Hidalgo), 4) magueyes lindero (Michoacán) y 5) manejo de magueyes silvestres (Puebla). Se realizaron en total 25 entrevistas semi-estructuradas a manejadores de maguey de cada sistema, recorridos en las parcelas e identificación de las especies y variedades utilizadas. Se construyó un índice de intensidad de manejo con 18 indicadores para comparar los sistemas. El sistema más intensificado es el de magueyeras extensivas, con una extracción diaria de 3,000 l de savia; el de menor intensidad es el manejo de magueyes silvestres donde se recolectan al día 30 l de savia de Agave marmorata. Se registraron 6 especies y 17 variedades tradicionales, la principal especie utilizada para producir pulque es A. salmiana var. salmiana, con 6 variedades tradicionales en cuatro de los sistemas. Ningún sistema maneja la reproducción sexual de los magueyes, lo que podría significar vulnerabilidad a plagas y enfermedades. Algunos sistemas se insertan en matrices de paisaje altamente transformadas, como las magueyeras remanentes y las extensivas, mientras que otros sistemas incorporan vegetación nativa como los "metepantles". Los sistemas reflejan una alta diversidad específica e intraespecífica de agaves, de prácticas y conocimientos, que son expresiones de la agrobiodiversidad del país. El manejo de magueyes pulqueros es una actividad vigente en comunidades rurales y suburbanas de México, de gran importancia económica para las familias productoras. PALABRAS CLAVE: Agave, bebidas fermentadas, conocimiento tradicional, agrobiodiversidad, patrimonio biocultural. ABSTRACT Pulque is a fermented beverage elaborated with the sap of 46 taxa of Agave. Through the 19th and part of the 20th Centuries, the production of pulque was one of the most important productive activities in Mexico, however, its success went down due to a combination of political, economic and ecological factors. This work evaluates
Through three Latin American examples, the paradigmatic notion of 'multi-sited ethnography" is put to the test in relation to food heritage. After recalling its cultural and historical antecedents in Europe and Latin America, a first set of tensions between 'institutionalized heritage and 'ordinary heritage are analyzed. The phenomena of contestation (Bolivia) that food heritage produces among the most modest populations shows that the wide range of its meanings and uses depend on the context and local issues. Consequently, the potentially contentious relationships between various actors within heritage, gastronomic tourism, and development are highlighted. For this purpose, the example of 'female traditional cooks and 'gastronomic routes' in Mexico is used as a starting point. Through these examples, the advantages and limitations of the multi-sited approach and its implications for ethnographic work on food heritage are discussed. Specifically, emphasis is put on the conditions of its implementation by revisiting how it differs from the comparative approach, transnationalization and 'glocal" analysis. Finally, some theoretical and methodological avenues for further exploration in the critical anthropology of food heritagization are suggested.
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