3 common pet food ingredients originated in Latin America

Find out which frequently used pet food ingredients originated in Latin America and learn how these indigenous crops still provide nutrition for pets and people.

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photo by Andrea Gantz
photo by Andrea Gantz

As Mexican and other Latin American dog and cat food markets continue to grow and embrace premium and superpremium pet foods, many of the ingredients used in those foods are no strangers to the lands where Native Americans first domesticated them. These three common kibble components have Latin American roots.

1. Corn

One of the most widely grown and productive crops, corn (Zea mays mays), likely started as little-finger-sized cobs of teosinte in southern Mexico. Over the centuries, Native American farmers transformed the tiny cobs into a crop that spread throughout the Western Hemisphere and fueled mighty empires. 

Despite marketing claims that reject corn in dog and cat foods, researchers have found evidence that both dogs and cats can digest corn, especially in extruded pet foods, as Ryan Yamka, PhD, pointed out in his Petfood Industry blog.

While corn may lack the essential amino acids lysine, methionine and tryptophan, that’s no reason to reject it as a pet food ingredient, wrote Greg Aldrich, PhD, in his Ingredient Issues column. Especially when corn is combined with beans, another crop developed by Native Americans.

2. Beans

Beans provide the essential amino acids that corn lacks. Domesticated beans, in the genus Phaseolus, were first cultivated in South America, according to genetic analysis published in Genome Biology. By the time of the Spanish invasion, Native American farmers had developed bean varieties that thrived from the tropics to what is now Canada.

As a pet food ingredient, beans can serve as a safe and digestible functional ingredient in weight-loss dog food formulas, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Animal Nutrition. Other research has found beans to be safe and nutritious in standard dog food as well.

3. Turkey

Although their name suggests an origin in Anatolia, domesticated turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) originated in what is now Mexico. The English may have confused turkeys with guinea fowl imported from Turkey, or named the birds after the Ottoman Empire’s merchants who peddled them, reported NPR, hence the misleading name.

Pet food buyers tend to project their own perceptions of turkey as a healthy meat onto pet foods that contain this lean protein source, wrote Aldrich. The turkey meat used as a pet food ingredient is virtually identical to that used in hot dog production, so the nutrient information is relatively similar.

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