Strange, as it may sound, it is true that many common items we consume as Indians daily might be from an alien land. Some even travelled continents and established themselves here in our country. Today, in our PlantScience Facts series, we will explore some of the common food items that are not local and we are sure you would be surprised to know about them!
What Alien Food Do We Eat Today?
According to a recent study, about a third of the fruits, vegetables and grains that Indians consume today as a staple is alien to the subcontinent. Some of these alien foods include wheat, potatoes, atta and apples – which were all introduced to the subcontinent by settlers and aliens. Although more than a third of Indian consumption originates in alien lands, these foodstuffs actually form about 45% of all the calories consumed in the country annually.
One of the biggest examples of alien foodstuff actually is wheat, which was introduced to the subcontinent from West Asia more than a thousand years ago. Wheat is a staple element of Indian dietary practices – and is one of the most common features in cuisines spanning cultures and geographical regions. It was first grown in West Asia and then, ancient human migrations led to the widespread cultivation and commercialization of wheat in the Indian subcontinent.
Who Actually Conducted the Study?
All of these findings came into light due to the efforts of an international research team studying the international interdependence of cultures, countries and cuisines. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (ICAT) led the study and examined the food habits of 177 countries. They also took into account more than 132 varieties of fruits, vegetables and grains. The Indian subcontinent itself is the birthplace of hundreds of fruits and vegetables.
What Alien Foods Do We Eat On a Regular Basis?
This is one of the biggest questions that the ICAT research team tried to answer. Apart from wheat, onions are also a major staple that can be seen in almost every cuisine. Onions aren’t endemic to India and they were first grown in the swathes of West Asia. Similarly, potatoes and tomatoes also travelled to India from the hilly West Andean regions of South America.
Chilies and spices are also a very important part of Indian cuisine. Irrespective of religion, region and food habits – chilies and spices are integral to the culture of India. It is therefore very interesting to note that chilies and spices actually originated in Central America and Asia. Mustard also was introduced to India by ancient travelers from the Mediterranean region. Apples, oil, palm, etc. are also major staples that actually originated far away from India.
How Easy Is Food Assimilation?
There have been questions asked regarding the ease of assimilating foreign foods into the culture and diet of a region. Researchers have pointed out that this process is actually very simple. European explorers brought back potatoes with them from South America and started to grow them on a large scale only 15 years after first discovering them. In a few years, potatoes became one of the staples of European diets.
Actually, researchers argue that this system of dietary and cultural exchange actually helped a lot of civilizations to flourish and develop their own unique cuisines and dietary systems. For example, Italian regions could only cultivate winter cereals like wheat and barley. After coming across maize in Colombia and other South American nations, Italian farmers started to grow maize in the summer months. This led to a major diversification of their dietary and related food habits.
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It is a humbling and awe-inspiring process to think how different Indian lives and dietary cultures would be if there was no exchange of ideas and habits. Potatoes are such an important part of Indian food systems, and they basically didn’t exist until Portuguese explorers brought them over in the 17th century. Other food items such as tomatoes, tamarind, kidney beans, etc. were also brought to India from far-off places such as Africa and Mexico.
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