Pedro Gargantilla Updated: Save Send news by mail electrónicoTu name *

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On the island of Santa Elena the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte wrote: “the war of Spain was the first cause of my misfortunes”. In effect, those six long years –from 1808 to 1814 – wore away his empire and led to its fall.

The conflict also brought, no doubt, dire consequences for our country, in addition to a staggering of the dead, the war left us another horse of the apocalypse, famine.

The almorta goyesca

In 1811, Francisco de Goya he titled one of his engravings -made with etching – like “ Thanks to the almorta ”, where reflected the consequences of the famine. In him appears a woman, completely covered and with the face hidden, giving out between a group of characters hungry for something to eat. It appears to be a soup made –judging by the title – with flour almorta.

Next to the woman, who is in the foreground, there are three figures standing with cheekbones marked, sunken eyes and noses sharp, the best reflection of the hunger that ravaged Spain during the napoleonic invasion.

To defeat this epidemic social classes more depressed turned to the almorta, a legume herbaceous very common in the area Mediterranean , which became an excellent substitute for cereals due to that there was a need for a special care on the farm.

It quickly became a product of first necessity, filling the stomachs of the most disadvantaged groups. However, and this is the darker side of the story, if consumed for prolonged periods and in large amounts could produce neurological disorders, cramps, urinary incontinence, trembling in the hands, and difficulty walking . A constellation of symptoms that, after a time, be known as latirismo.

The first reference we have of this disorder dates back to the fifth century before Christ, when Hippocrates –the father of medicine – advocated the intake of certain seeds of leguminous plants could cause paralysis. Later this hypothesis would be riveted by Pliny the Elder (79-23 to. C) and Dioscorides (40-90 d. C).

history repeats itself

A century after the autarky and the impact of the Second World War prolonged hunger during the years of the Spanish civil war. The food did not reach the consumers and the population suffered from malnutrition.

In this scenario bleak appeared again almorta, which became the salvation of thousands of people who had nothing to eat. This pulse, with the form of chickpeas crushed, became the daily menu of hundreds of Spanish scattered throughout the Spanish geography.

If we look back, in the year 1940, a kilo of vetch was worth 59 cents, while one of lentils 1.35 million pesetas and one of chickpeas amounted to 1,67. It is easy to imagine with what filled the basket to the housewives of that time.

The over-consumption of almorta resulted in an epidemic of latirismo, being added to the payroll of the aftermath of the war cainita. We now know that a diet practically devoid of proteins and based on this legume –Lathyrus sativus – causes an excessive intake of the amino acid ODAP (acid-s-N-oxalyl-diamino-propionico), the neurotoxin responsible for the symptoms described. Said Paracelsus: “ the proper dose is what differentiates a poison from a remedy ”.

Pedro Gargantilla is a internist in the Hospital of El Escorial (Madrid), and author of several popular books