" FOOD NETWORK"
Blog di Cucina
By Michel Basaldella
The Mediterranean diet is now a globally acclaimed food and lifestyle, adopted by billions of people. The concept was developed by the American physiologist Ancel Keys in the 20th century, but behind the label "Mediterranean diet" is a long and surprising history of cultural exchange between East and West and the Old and New Worlds.
Today’s Mediterranean diet is even considered a lifestyle. Inviting an active life and socializing at the table it is enhanced by a slow lifestyle that combines conviviality around mealtimes that are low in animal fats and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, dressed with extra virgin olive oil.
From a cultural point of view, the concept of the Mediterranean diet is fairly recent and dates back to the pioneering study by Ancel Keys in the mid-20th century. This American biologist and physiologist coined the Mediterranean diet as a result of a brilliant scientific study which highlighted the near-absence of cardiovascular disease in Mediterranean populations, compared with American patients, thanks to a low-calorie diet, with minimum sugar and animal fats. Following the publication of the research results The TIME Magazine dedicated a cover to it in 1961, and the Mediterranean diet began to be studied and practised all over the world.
Cultural, natural métissage Many foods of the Mediterranean diet, however, far from native, are the result of a cultural métissage, a mix, an exchange that has always characterized the European civilization, thanks to the presence of the Mediterranean Sea, crossed by ships and travelers: examples include the tomato, the potato, the Indian fig and chili from the Americas, bringing us foods after the discovery of America.
Until the 18th century, European farmers refused to grow and eat potatoes, of Peruvian origin, for fear of poisoning, as they belonged to the Solanaceae, but later adopted them and invented recipes such as mashed potatoes, french fries, potato bread, potato dumplings, and dishes formerly unknown in the New World.
Tomatoes – tomatl in the Aztec language – were transformed into a sauce by cooks of the Mediterranean who had the brilliant idea of combining pasta and the Mediterranean flatbread with sauce and cheese, creating a winning, organoleptic combination.
The Mediterranean cuisine Today's Mediterranean cuisines are unthinkable without tomato and yet another American discovery in the Mediterranean - the chili; but in fact until the end of the 18th century these products struggled to be taken up by local stores.
Sugar, which today is an indispensable product in our kitchens, and even spinach, come from India, while oranges, lemons and mandarins come from the East, which, together with rice, were introduced by the Arab civilization only in the Middle Ages. Even wheat, grapes and olives were cultivated in the Near East, and propagated slowly in the Neolithic era across lands bordering the Mediterranean sea.
In short, the Mediterranean diet owes its success to the intuition of an American biologist who brought it to the world’s attention, and to the people outside Europe, to whom we are indebted for the many foods that today are labeled as typically Mediterranean.