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Wine drinking in the Americas traced back to the 15th century

A team of researchers led by Cranfield University has recently discovered what they believe to be the earliest evidence of wine drinking in the Americas, inside ceramic artefacts found on the Island of Mona in the Caribbean. These findings shed new light on the dietary changes and cultural exchanges in the Greater Antilles prior to and after European arrival.

By using molecular analysis techniques, including gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, the experts examined forty ceramic sherds dating back to the 15th century. The analysis included sherds from a Spanish olive jar dating between 1490 and 1520 – roughly the period when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas and first noted the existence of this island in his journal – that contained evidence of wine residues inside.

“Whether consumed by Europeans or members of the indigenous population, this is direct evidence for the importation and drinking of European wine to a tiny island in the Caribbean shortly after the arrival of Spanish colonialists,” the authors wrote.

However, as the first generations of Spanish colonists brought the European tradition of wine consumption to the Americas, the Indigenous tradition of cooking on barbeques continued. According to the researchers, Indigenous people from this region of the Caribbean cooked fish and meat with charcoal over a raised grill, and the origin of the word “barbeque” can most likely be traced to “Barbacoa,” a term used by the Taino community.

“Two culinary worlds collided in the Caribbean over 500 years ago, driven by the early Spanish colonial impositions. We really didn’t know much about the culinary heritage of this area and the influence of early colonialists on food traditions, so uncovering the discoveries have been really exciting,” said study lead author Lisa Briggs, an archeologist at Cranfield.

“The strong culinary traditions of the Taino people in creating the barbeque held firm despite Spanish colonialism, and influenced food right round the world. This continues today, as we are all familiar with a barbeque. I’m really pleased that this research shines a light on the cultural heritage of this community.” 

Although many fish and meat bones were found around the site, none of them were discovered inside cooking pots, suggesting that Indigenous culinary traditions persisted in the face of colonialism and imported ceramic vessels.

“This offers an interesting insight into culinary exchange on the island. It appears traditional foodways were maintained even after an influx of European colonists arrived on the island with their glazed ceramics and olive jars. The lack of evidence for dairy products in our samples further suggests that European colonialists quickly came to adopt and rely on indigenous culinary traditions,” the authors concluded.

The study is published in the journal Archeological and Anthropological Sciences.

More about Caribbean culinary history

The Caribbean culinary history is as vibrant and diverse as its geography and its people. It’s a rich fusion of many different cultures, influenced by the indigenous people, European colonizers, African slaves, indentured servants from India and China, and other immigrant populations.

Indigenous Influence

The earliest culinary influence came from the indigenous people, namely the Taino, Arawak, and Carib tribes. They relied heavily on the local foods available to them, which included yams, cassava, fish, corn, sweet potatoes, fruits, and other tropical crops. Cooking methods often involved roasting or grilling on an open flame, or using clay pots for boiling.

European Influence

With the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the 15th century and the subsequent colonization by Spain, France, Britain, and the Netherlands, the Caribbean cuisine underwent significant changes. European colonizers brought with them new cooking techniques and ingredients, such as onions, garlic, citrus fruits, parsley, and more.

African Influence

The transatlantic slave trade in the 16th century had a profound impact on the culinary culture of the Caribbean. Enslaved Africans brought with them food traditions from various regions of Africa. They introduced okra, callaloo, plantains, and the art of slow-cooking and stewing. A signature dish like Jamaica’s Ackee and Saltfish has deep roots in African culinary tradition.

Indian and Chinese Influence

In the 19th century, indentured laborers from India and China arrived in the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations. They brought with them a variety of spices and cooking techniques that had a considerable influence on the local cuisine. Curry dishes, like Trinidad’s Chicken Curry and Roti, have origins in Indian culinary traditions.

Recent Developments

In recent years, the Caribbean culinary scene has seen the rise of fusion cuisine, combining traditional Caribbean ingredients and cooking methods with influences from around the world. Furthermore, there’s been a growing focus on locally sourced, sustainable ingredients.

The result of this history is a range of cuisines as diverse as the islands themselves. From jerk chicken in Jamaica to pepperpot in Guyana, from roti in Trinidad to cou-cou in Barbados, the Caribbean culinary scene offers a unique, flavor-packed experience that is deeply rooted in its historical melting pot of cultures.

Potential health benefits of wine

Moderate wine consumption, particularly red wine, has been associated with certain health benefits according to numerous studies. Please note, however, that these potential benefits need to be weighed against the potential risks of alcohol consumption, and they do not suggest that non-drinkers should start consuming wine or that heavy drinkers should consume more.

Cardiovascular Health

Wine, especially red wine, contains antioxidants like flavonoids and resveratrol which may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. These compounds are thought to help reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and prevent blood clots. This is known as the “French Paradox,” wherein the French have lower rates of heart disease despite a diet rich in saturated fats, potentially due to their frequent consumption of red wine.

Reduced Risk of Certain Types of Cancer

Drinking wine has been associated with a lower risk of certain types of cancer, such as colon, basal cell, ovary, and prostate cancer.


Resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, has been linked to increased lifespan in certain organisms. This effect is still under investigation in humans.

Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Drinking red wine might reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, particularly in women.

Reduced Risk of Stroke

Light to moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with a lower risk of stroke, particularly ischemic strokes.

Improved Cognitive Health

Moderate wine consumption has been associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Improved Digestive Health

Some studies suggest that drinking wine in moderation could have benefits for digestive health due to the presence of antioxidants and acids.

It is important to note that overconsumption of alcohol can lead to serious health problems including liver disease, heart disease, certain types of cancer, addiction, and neurological damage. 


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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