Maize, known in many English-speaking countries as corn, is a grass domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The Aztecs and Mayans cultivated it in numerous varieties throughout central and southern Mexico, to cook or grind in a process called nixtamalization. Later the crop spread through much of the Americas. Between 1250 A.D. and 1700 A.D. nearly the whole continent had gained access to the crop. Any significant or dense populations in the region developed a great trade network based on surplus and varieties of maize crops. After European contact with the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, explorers and traders carried maize back to Europe and introduced it to other countries through trade. Its ability to grow in distinct climates, and its use were highly valued, thus spreading to the rest of the world. Maize is the most widely grown crop in the Americas with 332 million metric tons grown annually in the United States alone.
Nixtamalization typically refers to a process for the preparation of maize (corn), in which the grain is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled. In the Aztec language Nahuatl, the word for the product of this procedure is nixtamalli, it is a compound of nextli ""ashes"" and tamalli ""dough"". This process is indispensable for the use of corn as food because without it the nutrients niacin and lysine are not released, which in a corn intensive diet leads to a malnutrition illness called pellagra.
The term maize derives from the Spanish form of the indigenous Taino word mahis, which means sustenance. The Greek word zea means life, therefore the scientific name of corn, Zea mays, means life's sustenance to refer to the importance given to its cultivation by pre-Columbian societies. Maize originated about 9000 years ago in what is today the state of Oaxaca in southeastern Mexico, most of the scientific evidence points to a process of hybridization of wild species of plants carried out by indigenous populations.
Throughout Latin America corn can be found in many forms: corn on the husk (jojoto, elote, choclo), fresh corn kernels, fresh corn dough (masa de maiz), corn flour, corn meal, corn starch and canned corn kernels. There is an enormous variety of recipes with corn as the main ingredient, here I will give you some that are very simple and very common throughout Latin America.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Zea mays
ENGLISH NAME: Corn, Maize
LOCAL NAMES: Maiz, elote, choclo, sara, milho (brazil)
STORING: Fresh corn kernels do not keep long, they can spoil easily unless they are freezed. Dry corn kernels can keep a long time in a cool dry place, to keep bugs away you place black peppercorns or hot chilies in the grain.
Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter them in the Caribbean, and called them "peppers" because of their similarity in taste with the Old World black pepper. Chilies were cultivated around the globe after Columbus. Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician on Columbus' second voyage 1493, brought the first chili peppers to Spain, and wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494. From Mexico, at the time the Spanish colony that controlled commerce with Asia, chili peppers spread rapidly into the Philippines and then to India, China, Korea and Japan. They were incorporated into the local cuisines of Asia and Europe. Some countries like Hungary excelled in their cultivation and today produce the best paprika (dry peppers powder) in the world, a product of local varieties of Peppers.
Capsaicin has been proven as pain killer when used externally on the skin, particularly for joints pain such as arthritis. When ingested capsaicin accelerates the metabolism, it increases the heart's rhythm and makes you feel hot and sweaty all over, this helps you burn some extra calories.
Growing chili peppers is very easy, you have to collect the seeds, carefully if it is a hot pepper, and dry them over a paper towel then spread them over good soil and cover them with a little more soil to avoid birds picking them. In a matter of weeks you will be harvesting chili peppers.
The following links will show the variety of culinary chili peppers:
ENGLISH NAME: Chili pepper, sweet pepper, bell pepper
LOCAL NAMES: Chile, Aji, Malagueta (Brasil)
PRODUCTS: Dried chilies, canned chilies, bottled hot sauces
NUTRIENTS: Chili pepper contain many useful vitamins but most important they are a good source of anti-oxidants to slow aging and the contain capsaicin that accelerates human metabolism and burns extra calories. For a detailed nutritional analysis follow the link: Chili pepper's nutrients
PROCESSING: Peppers are deseeded according to their size and shape. Small ones are better cleaned under a bowl of water, you first remove the stem, submerge it in the water, pierce it with your fingers and scrape the seeds out, these will stay in the water and the peppers can be accumulated in a dry bowl for further cutting. For large peppers you first cut off the top and push out the green stem, then with the knife you cut out the seeded heart and veins, this hollowed pepper can be accumulated for further cutting. For hot peppers the same principles apply but you must use gloves.
STORING: Fresh peppers must be refrigerated for future use, however they usually do not last more than 2 weeks. An option is to dry them by placing them in a warm, dry place, somewhere under the sun can be such a place, overnight in an oven at a minimum temperature can also be used. Another option is to turn the peppers in to a paste to be used as needed in recipes, for this you deseed the pepper then cook them no more than 5 minutes in boiling water, then blend them into paste combining them with salt, a little garlic and just enough oil to allow liquefying them in a blender, the paste should be kept in a glass jar in a cool place.