1492—Globalization and Fusion Cuisines

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 17

Hello, Great Courses fans. This audio-podcast has been cooked, removed from the oven, and is being lovingly delivered to a new audio-platform. In its absence, please enjoy the video series that it was based off, streaming now Wondrium. Click here to watch it now.

The following episode transcript and images will remain for posterity. Enjoy!

It was actually humanity’s desire for spices and other luxury items that eventually connected the entire globe. In this episode we’re going to investigate the powerful trading empires of the Venetians and Portuguese that secured stable routes to the spice islands. Then we’re going to focus on one of the most important events in human history—the Spanish conquest of the New World, and the “Columbian exchange”—where plants and animals from five continents were globally transplanted, drastically changing eating habits around the world.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• Chocolate Tasting Exercise

When Europeans first encountered chocolate among the Aztecs, it was drank and remained a drink for several centuries—but the Aztec beverage was very different. It could contain chili peppers and flavorings like güeynacaztle (flor de oreja, or Cymbopetalum penduliflorum), mecasuchil (flor de cordel, or Piper sanctum), tlixóchil (vanilla), and achiote (a yellow coloring agent, Bixa orellana), which turned it deep red. Oddly, chefs are experimenting with these flavors in chocolate bars today. When Europeans tasted it, they wanted to sweeten it with sugar for both gastronomic and medicinal reasons. They also added cinnamon, anise, and almonds or hazelnuts. One might consider this the first fusion food, and the type of drinking chocolate still used in Mexico is relatively unchanged. It is certainly nothing like what is commonly drank as hot chocolate, made with milk.

As an experiment, buy a range of chocolate bars, running the gamut from very sweet milk chocolate to dark bittersweet with a high percentage of cacao. They are processed to be eaten directly at room temperature, but they can all still be made into a drink. Simply dissolve each into a cup of moderately hot water, stir vigorously, and arrange from lightest to darkest. Starting with the lightest, notice how the water brings out the flavor defects. Sweetness overwhelms everything else. Notice, too, how different the high-cacao chocolate tastes when dissolved. The bitterness becomes rounded, in ways not unlike coffee. If you like, experiment with flavorings, especially cinnamon next to ground chili. Perhaps the original Spanish settlers were onto something when they combined Eastern spices with American chocolate.

Suggested Reading:

Albala, Beans: A History.

Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900.

Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492.

Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.

Fussell, The Story of Corn.

Kiple, A Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization.

Kurlansky, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.

Norton, Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World.

Sokolov, Why We Eat What We Eat: How Columbus Changed the Way the World Eats.

Images courtesy of:

• Map of Venice: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Venetian Galley: Myriam Thyes (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Map of Venetian Empire: kayac- at Italian Wikipedia.  CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Prince Henry the Navigator: Nuno Gonçalves [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Map of Portuguese exploration: By Photo taken by Alvesgaspar (Original work by Lázaro Luís (1563).) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Bartholomew Dias: By Bartolomeu_Dias,_South_Africa_House.JPG: RedCoat (en:User:RedCoat10) derivative work: Biser Todorov (Bartolomeu_Dias,_South_Africa_House.JPG) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Vasco da Gama: Daniel VILLAFRUELA Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

• De Gama Map: By User:PhiLiP or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Map of Portuguese empire: By Descobrimentos_e_explorações_portuguesesV2.png: *Descobrimentos_e_explorações_portugueses.png: *Portuguese_discoveries_and_explorations.png: *Portuguese_Empire_map.jpg: Tokle derivative work: Uxbona (Descobrimentos_e_explorações_portuguesesV2.png) CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Lisbon: By Duarte Galvão (1435-1517) (Crónica de Dom Afonso Henriques de Duarte Galvão) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Ferdinand and Isabella: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Columbus: Emanuel Leutze [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
• Columbus and Isabella: By Sxmuelfernandez (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
• Luis de Santangel: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Map of Columbus voyages: By Viajes_de_colon.svg: Phirosiberia derivative work: Phirosiberia (Viajes_de_colon.svg) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Pope Alexander VI: Cristofano dell’Altissimo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Globe divided between Spain and Portugal: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Bartolomé de las Casas: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Slave trade Map: By Africa_map_no_countries.svg: *Africa_map_blank.svg: Eric Gaba (Sting – fr:Sting) derivative work: User:Zscout370 (Return fire) derivative work: Grin20 CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Amerigo Vespucci: By Crispijn van de Passe (the Elder) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Cortes: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Pizarro: Amable-Paul Coutan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Magellan: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Cabot: By Giustino Menescardi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Cartier: Théophile Hamel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Verrazzano: By F. Allegrini (Scanné de Coureurs des mers, Poivre d’Arvor) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Sweet Potato: Shutterstock
• Chili peppers : Shutterstock
• Paprikash: Shutterstock
• Leonhard Fuchs: By Heinrich Füllmaurer (tätig um 1530/40) (Württembergisches Landesmuseu, Stuttgart) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Tomatoes: Shutterstock
• Antonio Latini: See page for author CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Maize: Shutterstock
• Mamaliga: Shutterstock
• Potato: Shutterstock
• Sunflowers: Shutterstock
• Peanuts: Shutterstock
• Okra: Shutterstock
• Pineapple: Shutterstock
• Bananas: Shutterstock
• Cola Nuts: Shutterstock
• Sesame seeds: Shutterstock
• Macadamia Nuts: Shutterstock
• BBQ: Shutterstock