The Culture of Mediterranean Cuisine
Nuzhat Hussain, Training Specialist at National Association of Medicare Supplement Advisors, Inc. (NAMSA)
Mediterranean cuisine is a culinary trend that is shared by an array of people that live in region around the Mediterranean Sea. There is a vast amount of cultural variance that makes the cooking a product of cultural influence. Mediterranean cuisine is built around fresh, wholesome fruits, vegetables, whole grains, breads, legumes, seafood, nuts, olive oil and seeds. Virtually all Mediterranean food is distinctive and flavorful due to rich and quality spices. Mediterranean cuisine rely heavily on cooking and preparation techniques to deliver distinctive and unique flavor. Food is integral to the ebullient hospitality which is imperative throughout in the Mediterranean region.
The Mediterranean region can be divided into three culinary regions: Eastern Mediterranean, Southern European and North African. Eastern Mediterranean cuisine includes culinary traditions of Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt. Cheese and yoghurt are primarily used as condiments. Some herbs like parsley and mint are dominantly used in the Eastern region. Grains are used in the form of bread. Meat is skewered in chunks like kebabs. Chickpeas are widely used as spreads. The Southern European cuisine includes regions of Italy, Southern France and Spain. Tomato, garlic, capers and pine nuts are widely used. Grains are used in the form of pasta or rice. North African cuisine comprises of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Harissa and ras el hanout are predominantly used in Moroccan cuisine. Use of cumin, coriander, saffron, and cinnamon are in the Southern cooking traditions. Dried fruit like dates, apricot and raisins are commonly used.
The most universally used and prevalent ingredient in the Mediterranean cuisine is olive oil. Olive trees are habitual throughout the region and a major export. Olive oil is used both in cooking and as dressing. Use of vegetables in various ways enhances bold flavors. Eggplants, artichokes, squashes, tomatoes, legumes, onions, cucumbers, mushrooms and assorted variety of greens embellish in this region are regularly used. Meat is frivolously used and is mostly grilled. Due to the rocky terrain, larger animals are not typically supported limiting the meat options to smaller animals like goat, sheep, and chicken. Goat and sheep milk is predominantly used in the forms of yoghurt and cheese. Seafood is generally the most prevalent in the Mediterranean cuisine and used as the primary source of protein. Additionally, the close proximity to the Mediterranean Sea provides easy passage to fresh seafood. Use of fresh herbs designates the Mediterranean cuisine. The climate and geographic location is Ideal for growing herbaceous plants. Most commonly used herbs are basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley, dill, mint and cilantro to name a few.
The Mediterranean diet favors mono-saturated fat, whole and unprocessed grains, proteins, sugar in its natural habitat and fiber. In 2010, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported results from 19 studies with more than 2 million total participants, that adherence to the Mediterranean diet not only decreased overall lower mortality rates but also a reduced risk of many serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
The Mediterranean food we eat today came about as a result of three evolutions affecting Mediterranean history: the Arab agricultural revolution of the ninth through twelfth centuries, the Age of Exploration in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the creative impulse of the Renaissance. The past millennium has formed the Mediterranean food of today which is the result of Mediterranean people inspired by the Islamic culture and agronomy of the past millennium, enhanced by foods brought to the Mediterranean from exploration. Food is essential to our lives and cuisine is the result of culture and reflection of the society from which it emanates.