Food in the Canary Islands

A few years ago we fell in love with the Canary Islands. There are seven islands – in order or largest to smallest in area - Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. We’ve been to the four largest over the past few years; some more than once. The climate is idyllic – rarely above 30’C (86’F), but usually above 20’C (68’F) for most of the daytime highs. Nights tend to stay in double figures Celsius (above 50’F) all year round. The islands are isolated and exposed in the Atlantic Ocean and are pretty windy as a result. A dip in the ocean is bracing at any time of the year – especially when you get out.

We’ve just got back from a week in Tenerife and we always find the local diet of great interest wherever we go. The heritage of the Canary Islands is also interesting.

The history

Travel guides are unable to pinpoint the discovery of the islands or the original inhabitants. The earliest mention of the region appears to have been in Plato’s Timaeus and Critias (Plato lived 428 to 348 BC). The best evidence points to the earliest inhabitants having come from what is North Africa today and the location of the islands – just 60 miles from the African coast – would support this theory.

There is remarkably little in the literature about the population of the Canary islands until the late 13th/early 14th century when accounts appear of a captain Lanzarotto coming across the island that went on to bear his name. There are records of an Italian and Portuguese expedition in 1341, which reached all seven islands. It wasn’t long before other explorers sought to establish a presence in the Canary Islands – considered an ideal base for journeys to Africa. In 1402, a French explorer, Jean de Béthencourt, met little resistance in Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. Running out of manpower to conquer the other islands, de Béthencourt sought help from the Spanish empire. Spain duly obliged and de Béthencourt was appointed lord of the islands by the then Spanish king.

The islands have remained part of Spain ever since, but not without resistance. There were many rebellions on the islands in the early occupation – against violence, slavery and taxes imposed by Spanish imperialists. There were battles with Portugal (which were settled by Portugal getting the Azores, Cape Verde and Madeira and Spain keeping the Canary Islands). The British (of course!) tried to conquer the region, first with Oliver Cromwell around 1657 and then again in 1797 with Nelson, but Spain prevailed.

The Canaries were finally declared a province of Spain in 1821, but bickering continued as to whether the islands should be separate or seen as one. In 1927, Madrid defined the Canaries as forming two provinces: Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro in the west and Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote in the east. The islands today are home to just over two million people.

Indigenous foods


The rest of this article is available to site subscribers, who get access to all articles plus a weekly newsletter.
To continue reading, please login below or sign up for a subscription. Thank you.