Juliana Cuneo: Ida España 2022

Spain’s Influence on Culinary of the Americas

Image retrieved from Irish Times // CC by 4.0


Food is the ultimate embodiment of people’s connection to a culture. It has the capacity to enable humans to feel a sense of familiarity and commonality with a community. Aside from the shared common knowledge that food is necessary to remain alive and physically healthy, food has a way of paving a way through hearts and souls. For centuries it has been used as a means of showing one’s care towards another person through the process of cooking a tender meal or a form of communication towards a group of people with a distinct culture. Above that at all, there are historical implications within the food that is consumed in the Americas that indicates the origin of ingredients back to the land of Spain. Central America, South America, and the Caribbean overtime were influenced by the food of Spain; modernizing to a fusion of American native/indigenous ingredients and European foods and cooking techniques. A notable change was seen in the types of food consumed from pre-colonization to post-colonization; Native America progressed and developed in the food realm at the cost of the spread of diseases and abuse/exploitation of their population. The Spaniards bringing new culinary elements to the Americas was brought at an expense of many travesties; however, resulting in the arisal of many staple plates and foods like pork, sugar cane, and cow (Spanish Discovery of the New World).

Spanish Discovery of New World

Spain, under the rulership of the Catholic Monarch Queen Isabella and King Ferdinad, was able to commence voyages to start the Spanish colonization of the Americas with Christopher Columbus and Spanish conquistadors. Their goal was to expand territory and receive monetary gains through the extraction of resources from the New World, as well as the expansion of Catholicism. The journey from Spain to the Americas was not a short nor easy one when dating back to the 15th and 16th century. It happened across decades where Spaniards interfered with the native people and land. 

Expansion was known for the three G’s: Gold, Glory, and God. There was news that in the Americas there was gold which signified material wealth that could be brought back to Europe (“Christoper Columbus”). For glory this was attained through conquering new land which brought power and honor to their name. And finally, God, efforts were pushed towards expanding Christianity by converting the native people from their native religion or spirituality towards the belief in Christ.

Christopher Columbus was not Spaniard himself, he was an Italian explorer and navigator that was licensed to lead four expeditions to the Americas in 1492 that evolved into the Spanish Empire becoming one of the wealthiest. This was due to the abundance of new resources brought back overseas (Christopher Columbus Italian Explorer).

Christopher Columbus was not Spaniard himself, he was an Italian explorer and navigator that was licensed to lead four expeditions to the Americas in 1492 that evolved into the Spanish Empire becoming one of the wealthiest. This was due to the abundance of new resources brought back overseas (Christopher Columbus Italian Explorer).

Posthumous portrait of Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519.

However, for the New World environment they suffered great devastation as on the ships with the explorers they brought famine and diseases never before seen on American soil. The human condition was not prepared. Immune systems were not equipped for smallpox, measles, influenza, nor the bubonic plague (Rosenwald). Medicine at the time was not as modernized as it is in the 21st century because the people of the Americas had never been exposed to European sicknesses.. The likelihood of an individual surviving at the time after catching one of these illnesses was highly unlikely. Native Americans had to develop medicines and natural cures after Europeans had settled in the Americas.Needing to become accustomed to cohabiting a space with these new diseases. There were sudden changes that were being implemented into what Europeans claimed as an “uncivilized society” without the approval or want on the ends of the natives.

Introduction of Resources

The introduction of tangible consumable resources did serve the native people to benefit. Prior to the movement of domesticated animals from Europe to the Americas many native people had diets that consisted of low protein levels. The introduction of new animal source protein allowed the people to expand the menu of what they consumed. What was brought to the region of the New World, included: cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and chicken. The morphing of the European diet into America’s diet was a huge shift. It presented a lifestyle change that was necessary for the Europeans because their diet back home was very distinct (Colonization, Food, and the Practice of Eating). They brought their diet to the Americas and many of the natives ended up adopting many of the similar eating habits. They were accustomed to eating The implementation of these new meats fast forwarded to modern times presents itself in the majority of Latin American dishes. For many Hispanic cultures a full meal is not considered “full” without the meat portion. Especially in South Florida where there is a big residential population of Caribbean and South/Central American immigrants, many can relate to that idea that a full plate is associated with either chicken, cow, or pork. 

The Americas in the late 1400s had animals of their own but were labeled as unacceptable to be consumed and used for work by the Europeans. This consideration for the lack of proper animals when the condition of the land and water permitted for sparked the approval of importing domesticated animals. Decades passed and the farm animals’ existence in the Americas flourished rapidly. Numbers multiplied at rapid rates due to the increasing speed of the reproduction of healthy animals. Because there was a huge accessibility of consumable meats in the Americas it was fairly cheap in comparison to Spain where meats were considered to be more of a luxury because of the slimmer availability. The increase of meat consumption also lead to the consumption of more dairy products; a direct result of. 

Meat is not the only aspect of food that was brought from Spain to the Americas. There were several ingredients that were not present in the Americas and had to be brought from Spain because they were not originally produced on New World soil.  Wheat, rice, sugar cane, citrus fruits, olive oil, and cinnamon were some of the few things that migrated overseas.

Wheat especially was significant because it exposed the start of the development of more bread in the Americas. For Spaniards it was very typical to see a sighting of a civilian sipping on a cup of wine while dipping a piece of bread in olive oil. For Europeans bread was an essential part of their diet thus showing the significance of it being brought to the Americas. Wheat was not originally found in this land, but after years of colonization wheat was commonly grown. The dynamic of the early colonial spanish america diet combined elements of indegenous and european cuisine as decades passed they began to mix. The border of what was from the Americas versus what was influenced by Spain became blurry. In conversations now people battle over what is native to their land or home to the territory of Spain. 


Image taken by Evgeniya Vlasova// CC by 4.0

In Mexico for instance there is a heavy use of olives and olive oil which is directly dated back to the Spaniards in 1531. Fray Martín de Valencia brought over to Mexico an olive tree from Seville, Spain to expand the production of olives outside of Spain. Olives in Mexican food have created some controversy as experts will claim that if olives are introduced into the plate then it is no longer Mexican, but Spaniard. There was actually a time in the mid 1500s when olives became forbidden by the Spanish government, possibly signaling while the Mexians began to adopt the usage of the olive more than the Spaniards at the time. Especially important to signal that what was brought from Spain to Mexico was the green olive not the black olive. And, is traditionally used as a snack not to be implemented in tacos or other wrapped foods. Just to justify the major role that olives had in the history and lifestyle culture for Mexicans they added it to the national anthem: Let gird, oh Fatherland!, your brow with olive…(The Olive Tree Arrives in Mexico).It exemplifies how a small food item can have an extreme impact on a land where the people decided to put it in an anthem that represents their nation, even though the small fruit is of Spanish origin.

Cheese, the most popular dairy product in Mexico, was because of the Spanish conquest. La Conquista Española in the 16th century introduced the cheese making process because prior to colonization there was no cattle to produce milk for the dairy product. “The introduction of dairying and ranching” was innovative and impactful on Mexican cuisine; shockingly placing Mexico on the map for one of the largest consumers of cheese world wide (World Cheese Culture: Mexico). Many dishes like nachos, quesadilla, and tacos have types of cheeses in them. 

Astonishingly, empanadas are derived from Spain. To be precise, Galicia, Spain. There was a cookbook dating back to the 1500s in Catalan that demonstrated how the empanada was prepared as a large pie that was cut into. Filled typically with a source of protein to be eaten by workers that were traveling and wanted a hardy meal. Empanadas made their way to Latin America as there were people immigrating from Spain to South America. The preparation appears to be quite different in South American countries as they can be filled with cheese or ground beef or be baked or fried. Elements of the original design of the Spaniard empanada have been changed to fit the cuisine and tastes of the people of varying Latin countries.

Image taken by Kevin Miyazaki// CC by 4.0

Without mentioning tapas one might as well not mention Spanish cuisine. Tapas are small plates of food that are meant to be eaten as snacks accompanied by a drink at a bar. This can be translated to a smaller version of appetizers as appetizers contain a larger portion. Tapas have influenced luxury, expensive restaurant chefs into creating small plates that are more elaborate than traditional tapas.

Cooking Technique

Olive oil being that essential cooking ingredient in Spain kitchens was brought over to the Americas. Olive oil was utilized as the main ingredient for the process of frying that was commonly used for croquetas and friend potatoes in Spain. It is a process in which you allow the hot oil to reach extreme temperature and then place the food to be cooked in the oil. This cooking method of frying has been adopted by many Latin American countries and the lack of using other cooking methods like baking or broiling for foods other than desserts or pastries. Venezuelans, Columbians, and Cubans are known to fry many of their pastries; the majority of foods in local bakeries are fried to perfection. Frying food with olive oil is essential to Spaniard cuisine and has influenced Americas cuisine to parallel that practice. 

Fortunately, for Spanish settlers the Americas was a great point of interest to establish food practices from Europe because the land was rich and fertile to produce fruits and vegetables in large quantities. The Spanish were met with an abundance of land and were able to influence the natives with ingredients and condiments to add to their diet at the exchange of the Spanish learning from them too. Modernized Spanish plates have made their way to the Americas in modern society because of their overall tasteful appeal that captivates chefs to add to their pallet. They are an inspiration and have been an inspiration in the area of food because of the benefits that protein has on the health of civilians and the flavorful nature of traditional dishes. 

None can deny that food is impressingly one of the most discussed topics among people. Understanding the context of where the food that one is consuming is coming from can be interesting as it makes one appreciate the lengths at which food ultimately transformed peoples health and culture. Spain was the origin story and reference point for much of what we consume today; especially, if you inhabit a Spanish speaking focused environment that has its culinary roots grounded in Spain. 


“Spanish Discovery of the New World.” Digital History, 2021, https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/active_learning/explorations/spain/spain_menu.cfm#:~:text=New%20foods%20reshaped%20the%20diets,and%20almonds%20to%20the%20Americas. 

Rosenwald, Michael S. “Columbus Brought Measles to the New World. It Was a Disaster for Native Americans.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 6 May 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/05/05/columbus-brought-measles-new-world-it-was-disaster-native-americans/. 

History.com Editors. “Christopher Columbus.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/christopher-columbus#:~:text=The%20explorer%20Christopher%20Columbus%20made,he%20stumbled%20upon%20the%20Americas.  

“Christopher Columbus Italian Explorer.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/biography/Christopher-Columbus. 

“Colonization, Food, and the Practice of Eating.” Food Empowerment Project, https://foodispower.org/our-food-choices/colonization-food-and-the-practice-of-eating/. 

“Home.” The Olives Gift, http://www.theolivesgift.com/the-olive-tree-in-mexico/. 

Farrar, Molly, and Molly FarrarMolly is a web editorial intern who hails from Virginia. “World Cheese Culture: Mexico.” Culture, 5 May 2015, https://culturecheesemag.com/blog/world-cheese-culture-mexico/. 

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