Imagine Italian food without tomatoes? Irish food without potatoes? Aztecan gold gets all the play in history books, but the Spaniards’ haul of new foods was staggering: the potato (sweet and otherwise), tomato, chile, cacao, peanuts, corn, beans, and more. Great post linked above.
"Of particular interest is Benzoni’s description of the method that the native people used for making corn tortillas. He describes their soaking it in cold water overnight, which seems innocuous enough — except it turns out they were soaking the corn in water with lye in it (as they had been doing for some 3,000 years). Lye kills the seed’s germ and makes it easier to store — and, importantly, lye makes the niacin in corn usable by humans. Without lye, a corn-based diet is likely to end in pellagra, a horrible, disfiguring disease that would affect hundreds of thousands of corn-eating newbies in France, Italy, Egypt, Spain, the American South and elsewhere.
The natives’ corn-soaking process, called nixtamalization (from an Aztec word for the product of this process), wasn’t “discovered” until the twentieth century. It’s the process used to make hominy, tamales and tortilla flour, arepas and pupusas, among other delights. As with mole, the secret origin of corn was forgotten, or obscured.”