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New World Foods

New World Foods in Europe and North America: This article discusses the introduction of New World foods to Europe and North America, focusing on the impact of the Columbian Exchange and the adoption of foods like potatoes, tomatoes, and maize. It also explores the challenges and controversies surrounding the acceptance of these new foods, such as the fear of tomatoes as a nightshade and the slow adoption of potatoes.

New World Foods

Ancient Indigenous Uses (circa 10,000 BC - 15th century AD)

The indigenous peoples of the Americas cultivated a diverse range of crops, many of which would later be introduced to Europe and other parts of the world. Major categories of New World crops included:

Maize (corn)

A staple food for many indigenous cultures, maize was first domesticated in present-day Mexico and later spread throughout North and South America (Mann, 2011).


Native to the Andean region, potatoes were a crucial food source for the Inca Empire and other Andean cultures (Salaman, 1985).


Originating in South America, tomatoes were cultivated by the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican peoples, who valued them as both a food source and for their medicinal properties (Smith, 1994).

Chili peppers

Used as both a spice and a medicine, chili peppers were grown by various indigenous groups throughout the Americas (Andrews, 1992).

Beans, squash, and other crops

Indigenous peoples also cultivated various legumes, squashes, and other plants, often using intercropping techniques like the "Three Sisters" (maize, beans, and squash) to maximize agricultural productivity (Mt. Pleasant, 2011).

Export to Europe during the Age of Exploration (circa 15th - 17th centuries)

The Columbian Exchange facilitated the spread of New World crops to Europe, where some foods were adopted more quickly than others. For example, maize and potatoes were initially embraced as animal feed and later became staple foods for European populations. Chili peppers, on the other hand, were quickly adopted as a spice in European cuisine (Crosby, 1972).

Slow Adoption of Tomatoes and Potatoes

Some New World crops faced initial resistance in Europe due to fears and misconceptions. Tomatoes, for instance, were initially met with suspicion because they belong to the nightshade family, which includes many toxic plants. It wasn't until the 18th century that tomatoes gained wider acceptance in European cuisine (Gentilcore, 2010). Similarly, potatoes were slow to gain popularity in Europe, partly due to concerns about their potential health effects and the perception that they were fit only for animal consumption (Zuckerman, 1998).

Irish Potato Monoculture and the Great Famine (1845-1852)

The adoption of the potato as a staple food in Ireland led to a virtual monoculture, with the population becoming heavily reliant on a single variety, the "Lumper" potato. This lack of genetic diversity made the crop vulnerable to disease, and when the potato blight struck in the mid-19th century, it led to widespread famine and the death of approximately one million people (Donnelly, 2001).

Modern Developments

In recent times, New World crops have continued to play a significant role in global food systems. The Green Revolution of the 20th century saw the development of high-yielding varieties of maize and other crops, boosting agricultural productivity and helping to alleviate food shortages in many parts of the world (Evenson & Gollin, 2003). As global food preferences evolve and fusion cuisine gains popularity, New World crops continue to shape modern diets and culinary traditions worldwide.


Andrews, J. (1992). Peppers

The Domesticated Capsicums. University of Texas Press.

Crosby, A. W. (1972). The Columbian Exchange

Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Greenwood Press.

Donnelly, J. S. (2001). The Great Irish Potato Famine.

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