Columbian Exchange: Europe and the Americas

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Sagar Shah
Columbian Exchange: Europe and the Americas

The Columbian Exchange was an impactful spread of culture, food and even frightening diseases between the Old World and the New World. This great exchange started after the accidental discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. Originally, Columbus and his crew set on a journey to find a western sea route to China, India and the spice islands of Asia. Instead, he found a whole new world in the western hemisphere that was eventually named “The New World”. The Columbian Exchange had lasting effects on both the Old World as well as the New World. The Columbian Exchange had several positive impacts, one of which was the introduction of new staple crops such as maize and potatoes to Europe. These staple crops and even some additional new foods such as capsicum pepper, plain vanilla and coca provided nutrients that the indigenous crops didn’t have. Europe also received quinine which was a medicine that helped deal with malaria. The Columbian Exchange also had a few negative impacts; the most devastating was the spread of diseases in the Americas that were brought from Europe. Diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis, and bubonic plague quickly transfused across the New World. Overall the Columbian Exchange had a more negative impact on the New World and a more positive influence on the Old World.

One lasting impression the New World had on the Old World was the introduction of new crops and foods. One staple food that the Europeans brought back was maize. Maize was a success in Europe because it produces well in a variety of climates. Maize prospers in areas too dry for rice and too wet for wheat making it ideal to grow in many different climates (Crosby W. Alfred 2003). For this reason maize was very popular and adopted quickly.

The potato also had a huge effect on the Old World. The potato contains large amounts of calories and nutrients due to the starch in it. The potato is able to sustain life better than any other food that is consumed (Davidson and Passmore, 1965, p. 285). Like maize, the potato can also be cultivated in a variety of climates making it ideal for Europeans to use (Crosby W. Alfred 2003). The first place the potato reached was Ireland. In fact the potato spurred a population growth in Ireland (Nunn and Qian 2009). The reason the potato became popular in Europe was because of the abundance of nutrients that it contains and because it can sustain lives all by itself which other crops cannot do.

Even though potatoes and maize had a big impact on Europe, many other foods like capsicum peppers also had a positive impact on the Old World. Capsicum Peppers originated in Bolivia and southern Brazil. When the Europeans came to the Americas, the pepper migrated to Mesoamerica and the Caribbean (Andrews, 1992, 82-83). The capsicum peppers had reached Spain and Africa by 1453. It had also reached the East Indies by 1540 and India by 1542 (Andrews, 1992, 82-83). The capsicum pepper has also impacted many other countries. In Southeast Asia the capsicum pepper has been used in cuisines. Capsicum peppers are also very nutritious. They contain a good amount of vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin C. They also contain large amounts of iron and magnesium. Magnesium is essential because it spurs energy production and iron is important because it speeds up metabolism (Greger 1994). This shows how capsicum peppers that originated in the Americas came to big use in Europe making a positive impact on their society.

Another food that had a positive impact on Europe was plain vanilla. Plain vanilla originated in Mexico, Central America, and South America. Plain vanilla comes from the plant Vanilla planifolia. The vanilla pods need to be fermented and it creates the chemical vanillin. The vanillin is the chemical that gives plain vanilla its scent and its distinct flavor (Rain, 1992, p. 37). Plain...
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