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Mar 23 2017

The 10 Foods That Define Spanish Gastronomy

If in a previous article we analyzed the 10 most characteristic dishes in Spanish culinary culture, this time we are looking at another set of results generated by a popular survey taken at the 2017 edition of international culinary conference Madrid Fusión. Which 10 Spanish foods serve as international ambassadors for our cuisine? And while we agree with the results of this survey, we can't help wishing we could expand upon the list


1) Ibérico ham

In first place in this delectable ranking, and with good cause. This unique product can only be made in Spain (and in some areas of Portugal along the Spanish border), and quality Ibérico ham can only come from native Ibérico pigs and an ecosystem that is found exclusively on the Iberian Peninsula, the dehesa. The elaboration and carving of Ibérico ham are practically art forms. 

2) Olive oil

We always prefer to be more exact and talk about extra virgin olive oil, pure olive juice produced exclusively through mechanical means. Spain is a virtual sea of olives, particularly in the country's center, south and Mediterranean regions. More than two thousand years making olive oil, a huge range of native olive varieties, and the use of the most advanced technology, are three characteristics of the Spanish olive oil industry, without forgetting its presence on the international market, where Spain is the undeniable leader.

3) Saffron

Saffron is an ingredient that is intimately linked to Spanish cuisine. Curiously, however, it has now become a minority crop in this country. In any case, there are still areas in Spain that get their life's blood from cultivating this world-famous spice. We're talking about Azafrán de la Mancha (saffron from La Mancha), which has protected denomination of origin status.

4) Red wines

The survey's ranking included Spanish red wine, which came in 4th place. Spain is recognized around the world for the quality of all of its wines (including whites, sparkling, rosados, and fortified wines), but people most commonly associate red wine with Spain. This industry is among the most advanced in the world with regard to technology and quality control, but one should not overlook the fact that, in recent years, Spanish viticulturists have been making a big impact through their care of the vineyards and protection and recovery of native Spanish varieties.

5) The cheeses

Few countries can presume to have the same richness as Spain in terms of cheeses, which are intimately linked to this country's diverse range of climates, landscapes and native livestock breeds. Raw or pasteurized milk cheeses, cheeses made with cow's, goat's, ewe's and mixed-milk cheeses... blue cheeses, hard and soft cheeses... industrial cheeses, 100% artisanal cheeses... cheeses with rinds coated in olive oil, pimentón, herbs, or other spices...  All of them are of the highest quality and many of them hold protected denomination of origin status.

6) Pimentón de la Vera

José Andrés says it all the time: "Don't call it paprika, it's pimentón!" Spain is the cradle of this spice – a sought-after ingredient in numerous countries. Spain was the first place to cultivate peppers in Europe, thanks to the seeds brought from the American continent, as well as the first to make pimentón. The most celebrated production area for this spice is la Vera (Extremadura), which has protected denomination of origin status.

7) Seafood

Spaniards are huge fans of fish and shellfish. The variety of traditional seafood from the Spanish coast includes shrimp, langoustines, mussels, clams and scallops, and other beloved species including velvet crabs, lobster and spider crabs.

8) Turrón, marzipan and mantecados

These traditional Christmas sweets are slowly breaking out of their seasonal roles, enjoying a newfound, year-round popularity. Their main ingredients are almonds, sugar and/or honey, and, despite the weight of tradition, some companies have already begun branching out into new flavors and formats.

9) Beer

The Spanish climate – with its abundance of sunny days – makes beer one of the country's most popular beverages. Big Spanish beer companies have gone from making blond, lager-style beers, to widening their product offering, thanks to the growing popularity of craft beers in this country. What's more, Spanish restaurants are starting to feature an ever-increasing beer selection that goes beyond what's typically available on tap.

10) Citrus fruits

Spanish citrus fruits were the first Spanish products to be exported to European markets – at the end of the 19th century – taking advantage of the new maritime trade routes, but their fame had been widespread for centuries. Currently, the juicy and refreshing quality of Spain's mandarins, clementines, oranges, lemons and grapefruit, are its best letter of presentation to international clients.  

Ibérico ham, olive oil and cheeses, are among the Top 5 items in the Spanish pantry Rodrigo García/©ICEX
Translation: Adrienne Smith/©ICEX
The 10 foods
The 10 foods
The 10 foods
The 10 foods
The 10 foods
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