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“Milhos aferventados” from the Algarve (Portugal): An historical, culinary, and biochemical interdisciplinary approach on a regional dish

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This article is a result of an interdisciplinary, mixed-methods effort to understand the context of "milhos aferventados" dish (nixtamalized maize meal stew), found in the "barrocal" and mountains area, from the Algarve, the most southern continental region of Portugal. "Milhos aferventados", a two-stepped preparation dish, makes use of a nixtamalization technique, singular in the overall context of the Continental Portuguese gastronomic scene: maize is firstly nixtamalized and then it would be stewed with salt-cured/smoked pork meats and vegetable products. Nixtamalization, a classic Mesoamerican technique used to increase the bioavailability of maize nutrients and to soften maize's kernel pericarp, is popularly used in the region to remove kernel's tip cap ("olho preto" [black eye]) avoiding culinary unpleasant texture on the final dish. This work is a result of an historical, culinary, and biochemical structured, triangulated approach to the dish, exploring the introduction of Zea mays L., the culinary aspects, and the cultural/biochemical reasons behind the use of this technique. Regarding the reasons that justify the culinary use of nixtamalization, hypothesis for further research are raised. However, evidence of non-dissemination of pellagra disease was found in the region in the early 20th century, unlike what was happening in other regions of Portugal where maize was eaten without nixtamalization, and pellagra was disseminating. Besides, the popular preference for fig tree ashes in this specific nixtamalization process was also studied. We found that pH of fig tree ash (12.63 +/- 0.02) and the ion calcium content (75.19 +/- 0.06ppm) were higher than, e.g., the carob tree ash (12.35 +/- 0.03 and 55.31 +/- 0.04ppm respectively), an alike available wood in the region, but only calcium ion present a significant difference, allowing the destruction of the maize pericarp, being the reason behind the usage of this technique.



Portuguese gastronomy Traditional gastronomy Nixtamalization Maize Ashes Barroca


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