The year 1992 represented the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean region. To commemorate the changes in global food patterns that resulted after 1492 – the exchange of foods brought about by the so-called Columbian Connection – a suite of first-hand exploration accounts covering the period 1492-1612 was searched for food-related accounts mentioned in the journals of English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish adventurers, explorers, and naturalists
The accounts retrieved are highly variable in detail and all exhibit selective observations regarding foods available in the Americas at the time of initial contact. Some of the accounts are misidentifications as when members of the Columbus expedition claimed to have found cinnamon and mastic growing in the Caribbean (neither were native to the Americas prior to 1492). In some instances the descriptions are amusing, as when English explorers shared European mustard with Native Americans in the New England region. Others describe obesity among Native Americans; still others mention famine foods (items consumed during drought, civil unrest, or open warfare.
The accounts all represent food-related eye-witness reports between 1492-1612
Given the vast array of foods available in 21st century American supermarkets it is difficult to imagine a time where the following foods would not have been available. Each of the following foods was introduced to the Americas after 1492:
almond; apple; apricot; asparagus; banana; barley; beet; broccoli; cabbage; cantaloupe; carrot; cauliflower; chickpea; cinnamon; clove; coffee; cucumber; date (palm); eggplant; fig; flax; garlic; grape (Vitis vinifera); hazelnut; kola (cola); lemon; lentil; lettuce; lime; mango; millet; mustard; nutmeg; oat; okra; olive; onion; orange; pea; pear; peach; pepper (black); pistachio; radish; rhubarb; rice (Orizia sativa); rye; sesame; sorghum; sugar beet; sugar cane; taro; tea; turnip; wheat; walnut; and yam …
Further, prior to 1492 throughout the Americas, there were no:
cattle; donkeys; goats; horses; sheep (therefore no cheese, milk, or yogurt-like products)
Consider, too, the interesting point that granulated sugar – prepared from sugar cane – did not exist in the Americas before 1492.
The Columbian Exchange worked in both directions across the Atlantic. Prior to 1492 the following foods were not available in Africa, Asia, or Europe:
Amaranth; arrowroot; artichoke; avocado; bean (kidney, lima, pinto varieties); blackberry; blueberry; cacao (chocolate); cashew; cassava (manioc); corn (maize); cranberry; guava; papaya; peanut; pecan; pepper (chili); persimmon; pineapple; potato; pumpkin; squash; raspberry; strawberry; sunflower seeds; sweet potato; tomato; vanilla; and zucchini.
It is easy to see how he subsequent Columbian Exchange changed human food patterns forever.