Understanding Geographical Origins of Common Foods


With rapid globalization in the last few decades and colonization in the last few centuries, there has been a great sharing of ideas, customs, and local treasures. One of the great exchanges that has taken place is in the agricultural sector. Fruits, grains, and other plant species that were local to one part of the world are now grown and enjoyed on the opposite end. If you have never thought about where your favorite food items originated from, this article gives some of the origins of some common foods.

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Going Global

Every fruit, grain, and vegetable that we enjoy today originated from a particular region. It was indigenous in this part. Seeds carried accidentally, or on purpose, to other parts of the world started the process of cultivating these exotic crops in new areas. Today, every plant has a particular region where it grows best. This produce is then exported to all corners of the world including areas that do not have arable land or the right climate for that particular crop. Because of these different activities and factors, you can walk into a supermarket or a produce market and find just about any fruit you desire, even if it had to travel halfway across the earth to get to you in seed or fruit form.

Recent studies into crops that are staples in the diets of many nations show how many actually originated from elsewhere. In a study on the origins of food crops published in the Royal Society, it was found that as much as 68.7 percent of national foods came from foreign crops. Some examples include chilies in Thailand and tomatoes in Italy. Both of these foods originated in South America. Corn is a major farming crop in the U.S. and the number one stable food for many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. It originated from Mexico and Central America.

Soybeans are also farmed extensively in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, but these originated from East Asia. Wheat and barley, which are enjoyed widely around the world, came from the Mediterranean region. Another example is the sunflower that originated in the U.S. and is now widely grown and used in China and Argentina among other countries. West Africa enjoys a number of stable foods including cassava, yams, and sweet potatoes, and all of these originated in South America.

Dependence on Foreign Foods

The origins of different food crops are the regions where that crop was first domesticated. This is referred to as the center of origin of that crop. Researchers have found that plants show the greatest level of diversity at their centers of origins.

The researchers in the study looked at the diets of 177 countries, which covered 98.5 percent of the world population. They compared the food items eaten there and looked into where these nations derive most of their nutritional value from. Using all this data, they plotted an interactive map of the world showing the center of origins for 150 different crops. Many plants have more than one center of origin, and this was also documented.

From the findings of the study, it is evident that countries that are far away from centers of origin or centers of biological diversity are the most dependent on foreign crops. This includes Australia, northern Europe, and North America. Regions of high biodiversity were found to be still growing and eating their staple food. One example of this is South Asia with rice. These nations depend less on foreign foods.

There are many factors influencing where and how well plants grow. Climatic conditions, soil types, and land availability all promote or limit the agricultural sector, although innovation and technology are breaking a lot of those barriers.

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