There are certain foods that, whether you are making them at home or eating in a restaurant, just make you think of the Mediterranean: olives, couscous, pesto, hummus, olive oil, falafel… the list goes on.
The Mediterranean basin includes parts of three continents: Africa, Europe and Asia. The unique mix of cultures, combined with a climate that lends itself to the cultivation of foods often originally unique to the region, results in an almost infinite blend of dish possibilities, all with an unforgettable taste.
In contrast to the popularized images of the Mediterranean region as a long coastline of beaches, the topography is actually quite varied. While there are beautiful white beaches and pristine cerulean waters, the region also has high mountains, rocky shores and cliffs, wetlands, savannas, forests, and arid stretches of land with thick shrubs.
What is Mediterranean Climate Like?
Like any region, the climate, together with the soil, is one of the main elements that determines the sort of crops that can be grown there. The Mediterranean climate is distinguished by erratic rainfall and mild temperatures. Irregular topography and closeness to a large salt water body also allows for a wide variety of soil types, and, as a result, a wide variety of crops.
What Foods Grow in the Mediterranean Region?
The olive tree is the characteristic crop of the Mediterranean region. The olive tree, like the fig and date trees, have long, widespread roots with limited foliage which are well-adapted to the climate and soil quality in much of the Mediterranean basin.
2. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits, like lemons, oranges, and grapefruits, grow well in the Mediterranean region due to a similar root structure as olive trees, but also because the fruits have thick skins, which are well adapted to the climate.
Grapes, cultivated for the fruit or for making wine, grow very well in the region thanks to the mild temperature and ideal moisture conditions in many areas of the region. Each sub-region has grapes that offer specific flavors. Sherry is grown in the Andalusia in Spain, Nero d’Avola from Sicily, Patrimonio from Corsica (there are also wines in Greece, Algeria, Morocco, Israel).
4. Fresh Vegetables and Legumes
In most of the Mediterranean countries, the majority of the crops cultivated are fresh vegetables. These include eggplant, chili peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini, cucumber and pulses like chickpeas, peas, and lentils.
5. Cereals and Grains
After fresh vegetables, the most widespread crop is cereals: wheat, barley, and couscous are some of the most popular grains cultivated in the region. There´s nothing like freshly-baked bread dipped in olive oil!
Where is the Meat?
The Mediterranean region doesn’t have a whole lot of grazing animals. This is because plants with shallow roots, like grass, do not do very well. Without grass, animals like cows and pigs cannot eat, and grain-fed cow farming is not a common practice. As a result, people cook with olive oil instead of with animal fat, and eat a lot of fish, fruits and vegetables.
This adaptation resulted from soil and climate limitations, but has resulted in the very healthy Mediterranean Diet that is now famed all over the world for its ability to promote maintain a healthy weight, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and contributing to a good overall health.