Popular beliefs and traditions have been passed down from generation to generation through observation and records made by travellers, missionaries, folklorists, ethnologists and other researchers concerned with the subject.
Diet is a theme surrounded in various myths and taboos in every society and, as it would be otherwise impossible, there exist a large number of them in Brazil.
Alimentary taboos are beliefs and superstitions concerned with the ingesting of food or the combination of them, which may be harmful to health and that many Brazilian folklorists call ‘faz-mal’ (cause-harm).
Despite not having any scientific proof, taboos become accepted by the population, especially the less enlightened, as being “truths”.
There are also cultural habits or religious prohibitions that are kinds of taboos: in India, where the cow is considered to be a sacred animal, its meat cannot be eaten by the population; Jews do not eat pork, similarly neither do some Asians, as it is considered to be an impure animal; goat’s milk is not consumed by Malaysians.
According to folklorist Câmara Cascudo, taboo Brazilian foods and drinks originated in the Portuguese religious formalism that imposed bodily requirements to ensure souls threatened by punishment remain safe. In this way, many taboos rose from repressing excess, such as eating too much, for example.
In Northeast Brazil there are many taboos originating from Portuguese, African and Indigenous cultures.
On of the most famous alimentary taboos in Brazil, from north to south, is that it causes harm to eat mango and drink milk afterwards because it causes congestion. The taboo is ancient and would have surfaced in the time of colonial Brazil, when farmers invented it to avoid slaves eating mango, whose bearing was abundant, and drinking milk furtively during milking, thereby reducing the volume that arrived in the main house. The belief that this mixture could even kill was spread amongst the slaves.
There are also various other taboos concerning fruit consumption:
• eating mango and drinking a lot of water afterwards will give you stomach ache;
• don’t mix mango with ‘cachaça’ (sugarcane alcohol), as it poisons;
• eating mango and eggs causes indigestion;
• mixing mango with jackfruit provokes intestinal pain.
Of course with progress and technological advancements, alongside the invention of the liquefier used to prepare smoothies and the habit of making fruit salads, many of these taboos involving fruit consumption lost their strength, especially in the large urban centres.
The taboo that “Cachaça and milk ruins your insides” probably comes from the Spanish “la leche con el vino tornase venino” (Milk with wine makes poison).
Other taboo food and drink recorded and circulating in Brazil:
• watermelon an wine stays in your stomach;
• eating meat and fish in the same meal shortens your life;
• mixing banana with guava causes harm, makes you constipated;
• eating ‘sarapatel’ (tripe) and then having milk causes harm because it ruins your liver;
• eggs with banana causes harm;
• eating papaya with egg causes pain and can be fatal;
• drinking ‘cachaça’ and then sugarcane syrup causes stomach pains;
• eating cucumber and drinking ‘cachaça’ gives you congestion;
• eating banana and then jackfruit causes harm because it makes you constipated;
• eating egg and pineapple gives you bad congestion.
Recife, 26 January 2006.
(Updated on 8 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.
MAUÉS, Maria Angélica; MAUÉS, Raymundo Heraldo. O folclore da alimentação: tabus alimentares da Amazônia. Belém. 1980.
SOUTO MAIOR, Mário. Os mistérios do faz-mal. Recife: 20-20 Comunicação e Editora, 1996.
TABUS alimentares: superstições que sobrevivem ao tempo? Disponível em: <http://www.educacional.com.br/falecom/nutricionista_bd.asp?codtexto=262> Acesso em: 19 jan. 2005
TABUS e crendices sobre a mesa. Disponível em:<http://www2.uol.com.br/aprendiz/n_noticias/boca_livre/id120901.htm>. Acesso em: 7 dez. 2005.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Taboo food and drink. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.