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Central American food

Four Delicious and Healthy Central American Food Staples

A quick look at four main healthy and nutritious kitchen staples that make up the backbone of Central American food.

It’s fair to say that Central American food doesn’t have the glamor and spice of its northern neighbor in Mexico. It’s generally a more low-key cuisine, suited for home cooking. Call it great comfort food.

Central American cuisine is a mix of influences. There are Mayan and other indigenous flavors blended with the influence of Spanish/Arabic food brought to the region by Columbus and, of course, Afro-Caribbean styles also thrown in. But what are the common staples you’ll find in every self-respecting Central American kitchen? And more importantly, what are the most healthy and nutritious staples in the region?

Below, we highlight five healthy, nutritious staples that you’ll find in the kitchens of most Central American homes. They’re all cheap and easy to find. And they’ll all enhance your cooking with a little Central American flair. Let’s take a look.

Corn

Corn is the number one staple food of Central America, cultivated as a crop in the region for at least 4,000 years.

Most Central Americans eat some form of corn every day in the form of masa, a soft dough made of crushed corn, through a process called nixtamalization. This is where you soak the corn, cook it in limewater, then hull and crush it into cornmeal. Masa is the base ingredient for the corn tortillas, tamales, baleadas, and pupusas you find all over the region.

Corn has an impressive nutrient profile. It’s rich in carbohydrates, fiber, some protein, vitamin C, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, vitamins B6, and folate – essential for pregnant women. If you’re not getting enough corn in your diet, speak to your doctor for advice on some of the best women’s multivitamins.

Central Americans also eat a lot of corn whole – either grilled, steamed, or cut in quarters and added to the myriad of soups and stews around the region, like, for example, Panama’s sancocho.

Rice

The second most consumed staple in Central America is rice, which first arrived with Europeans and Africans.

It’s a rare Central American kitchen that doesn’t prepare rice every day. Rice comes as a side to most dishes, from casados to arroz con pollo and more – eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all over the region.

Rice is a carbohydrate, but also a great source of fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6, and some protein too. The fiber in the rice grain also is useful in aiding the growth of good gut bacteria that helps in digestion and weight management.

Beans

The third most consumed staple in Central America is beans. In fact, rice and beans are quintessential in this part of the world, from gallo pinto – a national breakfast treasure in Costa Rica and Nicaragua – to “rice ‘n’ beans” along the Caribbean coast, often cooked in coconut milk. Beans make it into tacos, stews, casados, and a myriad of other Central American dishes.

Different countries have different love affairs with different bean types. Kitchens in Guatemala and Belize love black beans, while red beans reign supreme in Honduras and Nicaragua. Black beans resurface in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Panama.

Beans are exceptionally nutrient-dense. A hundred grams of beans include 21 grams of protein, 22 grams of carbohydrates, and 16 grams of dietary fiber, with negligible fat content. The vitamin and micronutrient profiles of beans are even more impressive, packed with potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and calcium.

This superfood is worthy of being a staple in kitchens worldwide, not only in Central America.

For your next brunch, try adding in some fried eggs over corn tortillas and refried beans to enjoy a typical Central American farmer’s breakfast.

Limes

Limes are another major staple food in Central American kitchens, although many call them lemons. Make no mistake, these are limes, though.

Our favorite way to use lime juice is in ceviche. You use it to “cook” raw seafood without heat, and it’s delicious.

Another way to use limes is in drinks, adding it to a cold beer with salt and tomato juice to create a michelada, or making a margarita.

Packed with vitamin C and phytonutrients, limes are as healthy as they get. Citrus is also a natural appetite suppressant and aids in losing fat and keeping your body nice and trim.

Create a Central America-themed kitchen.

Some other notable mentions of Central American staples include plantains, yuca, beef, chicken, potatoes, and – to a lesser extent – avocados. But the four staples listed above are common in all the countries of Central America, and furthermore, they’re both highly-nutritious and affordable for about any budget.

Including these staples will promote a well-balanced, healthy diet. We hope these nutritious staples start to make an appearance in your kitchen and you experiment with creating some delectable Central American dishes.

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