No matter where we come from, we grew up eating our grandma’s food and enjoying those deliciously old recipes our whole life without giving them much importance, or maybe taking them for granted. Nowadays, the tendency in gastronomy is to give value to our traditional foods and cherish them to the fullest.
Local and Traditional food is attracting chefs attention, governments agendas and consumers whom appreciate food all around the world.
We are living changing times and people are looking for different, yet exciting ways to vary their diets. Especially we´re looking for new recipes and —why not— recipes that are typical of other countries as well. Variety is the key to the taste.
In this article you will find:
- What is traditional food
- Why should we talk about traditional food
- What makes a product traditional
- How to identify traditional food
- Examples in worldwide culture
- How traditional food can determine the fate of society: the history of the potato
What is traditional food?
Around ten thousand years ago, the firsts sedentary societies used to take what they needed from the environment freely on a daily basics. People were hungry, so they had to invent ways to make the elements around them edible, but tasty as well.
Civilizations learned some tricks on cooking and they kept developing it. The knowledge passed through generations. At the same time, populations adapted to the nutrients they received depending on where they settle. The traditional food adapts to the people, at the same time that people get acquainted to the environment. It is unprocessed, nutritious, organic and high in fats to satiate working people. Ultimately, it is the food that we find in our local community that will make the difference.
Why should we talk about traditional food?
In the 20th century, accentuated by the two World Wars, developed countries began to change their diets for many reasons, leaving aside traditional foods or make them exclusively into a private only familiar dish. The era of a so-called globalized societies’ diet started then: Fast foods, pizzas, sushi, hamburgers, high in sugar cereals for breakfast, etc. Big companies and publicity convinced people this was better for them, for health or fashion reasons, but most importantly they saved you time and money, so people were all in.
In 1935, scientists began to foreseen what was happening. They knew that if we didn’t get attention to promote and protect our products, they would soon disappear. So, they came up with the solution to back to the origins and consume local food.
Since 1975, obesity has almost tripled worldwide. How come illnesses were increasing if we were taking ¨healthier¨ products? A theory is that we are consuming meals for which our system is not well-adjusted and that brings us health problems.
In 1955, 7-Up suggested that mixing the fizzy lemon drink in “equal parts” to a toddler’s milk was an excellent and responsible way to encourage them to drink – assuring mothers that it was a “wholesome combination”.
What makes a product traditional?
To call a food as traditional, it must certainly have an intrinsic link to the society in which it is generated. It must have a birth history, become a legend or be part of written documents that prove it.
A traditional product should also be easily obtained in the area and time of year in which it is produced because it is made with natural resources available in a particular place.
There are countless examples in the world of traditional food. However, not all of them are certified to prove it.
How do I identify a traditional product?
There are quality standards to promote and protect traditional products: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Geographical Indication (GI) and the Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG). Many countries around the globe have adopted this system. These standards are only applicable to food and beverages. They serve to identify a local and traditional product.
To get one of the certifications, there must be a link between the product and the place where it is produced. For example, a molecule that gives a certain aroma to the product and is only found in that place. Or the microclimate of the region that gives the product its characteristics.
Examples of traditional food
Let’s take a look at some examples. Mozzarella is a cheese that we all know, it melts and it goes well with other fresh products. We usually use it on pizza or in salads. Surprisingly, Mozzarella is not a traditional food, but a generic food product. Nonetheless, there is only one type of mozzarella that is traditional.
The producers own the name of the product; we can call it like that if it is produced in the place meeting specific quality standards. For example, the Mozzarella di Bufala di Campana comes from a southern italian region called Campana.
Mozzarella di Bufala di Campana is a traditional product with a Protected Designation of Origin. This certification lets us identify it as a traditional product.
The Jabugo Ham PDO or Jamón de Jabugo in Spanish is a cured ham made from black pigs of Iberian breed. These pigs live in the pastures of the provinces of Badajoz, Cáceres, Seville, Córdoba, Cádiz, Málaga and Huelva in Spain. They feed mostly on acorns, which give the meat a delicate and smooth taste.
It is easy to relate the Iberian Ham with something traditional, because of the great reputation it has. But in reality, Jamón Ibérico refers to any ham made with black pork from the Iberian breed, which may or may not be traditional. In fact, we can find several designations of origin for hams from Iberian pigs in Spain , such as Jabugo Ham DOP, Dehesa de Extremadura Ham DOP, Los Pedroches Ham DOP, Guijuelo Ham DOP.
We still have a long way to go
Traditional products will still be in the local communities and patron saint festivities, but we need to raise awareness to incorporate them back into our diets.
When we travel to a country with a bast traditional history, like Italy or Spain, the gastronomic richness amazes us, but in fact, every country has a gastronomic variety or identity, although sometimes they aren´t very valued or appreciated. Every region should be proud of their local products, protect them and enjoy them.
Over the generations, the traditional dishes and food are disappearing. It would be a pity to lose the cultural and historical richness that the gastronomy of a region offers us.
How traditional food can determine the fate of society. The history of the potato
To conclude, I would like to tell you about the history of the potato or how food can determine the fate of a population. In South America 8000 to 5000 years ago, the Inca Empire domesticated plants of potatoes and some specialists believe this was the cause of the greatness of the empire. The potato arrived in Europe in 1579, but in that time they believed the potato was indigestible and caused leprosy. The people fed the animals and the homeless with it.
It was not until a botanist named Antoine Parmentier started to promote the benefits of the potato against famine. We all know that with famine comes looting, violence and war. Nowadays, scientists mostly agree on its importance in the decrease of violence in Europe for about 200 years, not to mention the tremendously nutritional benefits.
Not surprisingly, the term ‘parmentier potatoes‘ is now used to describe any dish made with cooked potatoes. Perhaps as a way of paying tribute to the French scientist who did so much to fight hunger in Europe.
Food becomes traditional when it modifies the course of history in our society and it contributes against hunger, wars, and hard times. Most importantly, traditional food makes any moment of life a compelling memorial celebration.