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.



LOCAL NAMES: Maiz, elote, choclo, sara, milho (brazil)


Fresh masa (dough)

corn flour, mix with water and you get masa

corn starch, the best thickener

  PROCESSING: Fresh corn is processed by simply scraping the kernels with a knife, then kernel can be ground for cooking. Dry corn has to be boiled in lime watern to make it tender for grinding into a usable dough (masa) for further cooking. 
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.

CORN CAKES: This is the most traditional form of corn bread throughout Latin America they may be called different names, in Colombia/Venezuela they are called Arepas; in Panama Tortillas, in El Salvador Pupusas; in Mexico Gorditas; but they are all very similar, a round flat cake of varying thickness made from corn dough (masa) and cooked over a hot flat pan to develop a crust and bake, sometimes they are deep fried. Once they are cooked they are stuffed with all kinds of things, from a simple butter and cheese, to very complex stuffing such as chicken and avocado salad, they are Latino fast food. They are usually shaped by hand but there is an electric cooker for the home called Tosti-Arepa that will shape and cook them.

MANDOCAS: This a is corn version of a donut which are very popular in the city of Maracaibo, Venezuela. You need 2 cups of prepared corn masa, 1 ripe plantain slightly cooked in boiling water, 1 teaspoon of salt, 4 tablespoons of brown sugar (raspadura, panela), 1 teaspoon of anise seeds, 4 tablespoons of coarsely grated white cheese, any of the local brands will do. Place all ingredients in a bowl and knead until they are well blended and divide in 16 more or less equal round balls; wet your hands and shape each ball into a long piece about as thick as one finger, join the tips to make a round shape and deep fry until golden, keep warm over absorbent paper and serve to eat with a slice of white cheese.

FRESH CORN PANCAKES: These are made with fresh corn kernels which are ground using a corn mill or with a food processor, you process 4 cups of fresh corn kernels, the kernels should be coarsely ground so that the mash will have a thick texture; add 1 teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar and mix well; over a hot and well greased pan drop 1/2 cup of corn mash and spread with a soup spoon to create a round shape, when it sets turn over to cook other side, it should be a dark golden color. Serve warm with a piece of white cheese, you can spread butter, marmalade, honey or even cream cheese on top. These are usually referred to as Tortillas de Maiz Nuevo, in Venezuela they are called Cachapas. You may add 1 egg to the mash to make a richer mixture.

CORN AND COCONUT PUDDING: A very simple and tasty dessert, in Venezuela is called Majarete and in Brazil Canjica de Milho, it requires the coconut milk obtained from the flesh of the coconut, not the water contained in fresh coconuts which should not be used in this preparation. The coconut milk is obtained by liquefying the flesh with a enough hot water and pressing it through a cheese cloth. Canned coconut milk can be used instead of fresh. You need 1 cup of prepared corn dough (masa), 4 cups of coconut milk, 2 cups of brown sugar (raspadura or panela), 1 teaspoon of salt, 4 tablespoons of cornstarch (maicena), 1 tablespoon of cinnamon powder. In a heavy pan place 3 cups of the coconut milk and the brown sugar stir over medium heat to dissolve all the sugar; in a blender liquefy the corn dough (masa), the cornstarch with the remaining cup of coconut milk; bring the sweetened coconut milk to boil and slowly add all the liquefied corn dough, keep stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until you get the texture of a thick marmalade, while hot pour into a shallow mold and shake to level and let cool completely. To serve unmold and spray with cinnamon.



Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. There is archaeological evidence at sites located in southwestern Ecuador that chili peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago and is one of the first cultivated crops in the Americas. Chili peppers were domesticated in various parts of South and Central America.

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.

Chilies peppers come in many sizes (tiny to double fist), shapes (long and thin, to round and thick), and colors (green, orange, yellow, red, purple, multi-colored). They are also classified according to their heat into sweet, mild, hot and extreme. The heat classification is done using the Scoville scale established in 1912 by an American chemist, this scale measures the content of capsaicin, this is the substance that produces the heat sensation in mammals, birds are not affected by it and that is why they spread the seeds of chilies. In the Scoville scale bell peppers and sweet chilies are close to zero, Jalapeños measure about 25,000, Tabasco pepper around 250,000, habaneros about 500,000 and the hottest pepper in the planet is the Bhut Jolokia from India measuring over 1,000,000 in the Scoville scale, this pepper is so hot that the Indian army manufactures a hand grenade that sprays an extract from this pepper, it has proven very successful at getting enemies out of enclosures such as caves.

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:
 Fresh Chilies,
 Dried Chilies,
 Sweet 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.

HAM WRAPPED PEPPERS: Prepare a stuffing mixture using 1 cup of a cheese that will not melt, such as cottage cheese, ricotta, or one local fresh white cheese (queso prensado, queso del pais), add 4 tablespoons of parmesan cheese, a pinch of black pepper and nutmeg, add 1/2 cup of chopped fresh basil, mix well all ingredients and add salt if needed. Take 12 sweet peppers about the size and shape of your middle finger, cut the top off and scrape out the seeds and veins to hollow the peppers; stuff them with the cheese mixture; cut some strips of ham, wrap the peppers in the strips and secure them with a toothpick, brush with a little olive oil and grill or bake in 400F oven until ham starts cooking and turns slightly golden, about 20 minutes. For extra flavor you can use a cured or smoked ham.

CHILI STUFFED GREEN PEPPERS: take 5 large green, cut the top off, carefully remove the seeds and veins to avoid piercing the skin; stuff them with a thick chili stew, from a can if necessary; place in a deep baking dish, cover and bake at 350F for 25 minutes; spray with grated cheddar cheese or other melting cheese, some chopped fresh cilantro and serve.

RED PEPPER SOUP: take 4 red peppers, remove stem and cut in half to deseed and devein; char the skin of the red peppers over a grill, under a broiler or on stove, while hot place in plastic bag to cool, it will help to remove the charred skin; once cooled remove as much skin as possible, coarsely chop and reserve; in 4 cups of water boil a peeled and coarsely cut carrot until tender; cut a cross on top of 3 ripe plum tomatoes and boil in the water for 2 minutes, let cool and remove skin; in 1/4 cup of oil heat 1 small onion and 2 cloves of garlic coarsely chopped; when onion and garlic release aroma add red peppers and stir to heat thoroughly, turn off heat and proceed to blend with boiled water, carrots and tomatoes, you may have to do it in batches, return to pot, reheat, add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste and to serve spray some chopped fresh basil.

BACON WRAPPED JALAPEÑOS: Take 20 jalapeño chilies, cut then im half lengthwise, scoop out the seed, veins and reserve; take 1 package (0.5 Kg, 1 Lb) of sliced bacon and cut in thirds, reserve; mix thoroughly 2 packages (0.25 Kg, 8 Oz) of softened cream cheese with 1 tablespoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon each of blackpepper and hot sauce; stuff all jalapeño halves with the cream cheese mixture, wrap snugly with piece of bacon and secure with toothpick; bake over baking sheet with a rack at 375F for 25 minutes. Be warned these things are addictive.