For the last year or so, I have been trying to track down the story of the Mexican bread known as semitas (or cemitas). My interest was sparked because it is widely asserted that on US-Mexico border semitas means semitic bread. There, it is said, its origin can be traced to the crypto-Jews who settled in the area in the seventeenth century fleeing the Spanish authorities.
The trail has led me to dictionaries, books, friends who are expert in the foods of North Africa, investigations in Mexican markets and on the web. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that romantic as it is, the derivation of semitas from Semites (Jews) is false. Instead it seems more probable that it derives ultimately from the Greek word for seed (which also gave rise to the Spanish semilla or seed) and from there it passed to North Africa, Spain, and eventually the Americas.
Semitas, it seems, are the contemporary reminders of the fact that breads once sharply mapped on to social class. The rich ate fine white bread, the lower down the social scale you went the more of the seed was included until you reached semitas which were a coarse whole wheat roll.
Today, semitas are found all over Mexico and in many parts of Latin America. They are small, usually only slightly raised, may contain sugar, anise and nuts, or may have gone up the social scale to form the delicious white rolls (cemitas) of Puebla in Mexico.
If fellow IACP members have any information about semitas, I would really appreciate receiving it.
visit Rachel´s website at www.rachellaudan.com or email her.
Guanajuato and Mexico City, Mexico