If you know how much Mexicans love their maize (corn), it makes sense that the Zapotec peoples would have been the brains behind everyone’s favourite cinema snack – popcorn. Afterwards, it fell into the hands of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés by way of the Aztecs. These popped kernels were known as momochtli. They were made in hot clay pots, and not in the microwave.
Many are surprised to hear that we can thank Mexico for the invention of chewing gum. First stumbled upon by the Mayans, who extracted the sap that was originally used to make chewing gum (‘chicle’) from trees, the Aztecs found a more practical use for it – they used the sticky substance to hold things together: a type of ancient Blu-Tack, if you will.
Mexico certainly isn’t short of world-famous spirits and alcoholic beverages; however, most people don’t realise that the delicious coffee liqueur Kahlúa is Mexican in origin. It was invented in Veracruz and, interestingly, once had an all-female executive board.
If you’ve ever taken or benefited from the use of oral contraceptives, you’ve got Mexican Luis Miramontes to thank, at least in part. In 1951, he was a 26-year-old chemistry graduate, and synthesised one of the key elements, the progestin norethindrone, which would later become the active ingredient in the first three oral contraceptive pills. This remarkable discovery led to Miramontes being known as the ‘father of the pill’.
As recently as the early 2000s, researchers and developers at UNAM’s Applied Physics and Advanced Technology Centre in Querétaro came up with an anti-graffiti paint, Deletum 3000. This biodegradable product, which sounds remarkably like a spell from Harry Potter, prevents anything wet or oily from adhering to it, and so leaves spray paint unable to grip the wall.
Just ten years before Mexican researchers were working to combat graffiti, another group were inventing indelible ink. Oh, the irony. A key element in the prevention of electoral fraud, this ink is soaked into the skin and remains there for 24 hours, ensuring that another vote cannot be cast by the same person. Having been introduced to the Mexican election process in 1994, Filiberto Vázquez Dávila’s indelible ink has since been used in other countries, including Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, and this has never been truer than in the case of Mexican engineer Manuel González Flores’ remarkable piece of technology: control pilings, a.k.a. earthquake resistant foundations. Invented in the late 40s and early 50s, these foundations adapt to the movement of the building, rather than remaining rigid, which makes them exceptionally useful in cities with a high earthquake risk and unstable foundations. Cities exactly like the Mexican capital, in fact.
Yes, colour television was invented by a Mexican: Guillermo González Camarena. He was only 22 when he introduced his self-built colour TV to the country in 1940, and he was to later come up with a ‘trichomatic, field-sequential system’ and ‘improved chromoscopic adapter’ which helped enable the colour transmissions. In 1942 he obtained the patent, and in 1946, he finally screened colour images direct from his Mexico City lab.
We all know that the tortilla is a Mexican invention, but did you know the tortilla machine was too? Created by Fausto Celorio Mendoza in 1947, this automated tortilla machine revolutionised the time taken to produce these staple dietary discs, eventually being able to produce 130kg of tortillas per hour in 1959. By 1975, 200kg of tortillas per hour were being pumped out of the machines that bear their inventor’s name.
Believed by many to be the best snack of all time, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were invented by a Mexican immigrant called Richard Montañez, who is now one of PepsiCo’s executive vice presidents. At the time, he was working as a janitor in the Frito-Lay factory, when the elote-inspired idea for a chili-dusted Cheeto occurred to him. He pitched the idea to his superiors, they approved it, and it’s now their biggest-selling product.
Don’t let the Belgians throw you off with this one: as chocolate was invented (or should that be discovered?) in Mexico, way back in the Mesoamerican period. Pretty much everyone agrees that it was likely the Olmecs who developed this popular treat from cocoa beans, drinking it as a fermented beverage, before the Mayans created hot chocolate and the Aztecs savoured it cold and bitter. It was only sweetened with sugar once it began to be exported to Europe.