From Fear to Comfort: The Mexican Bolillo Tradition Explained

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Ever heard of the intriguing Bolillo tradition of eating bread when you’re scared? It’s not just a random practice; there’s some fascinating science behind it!

Pola Carballo, a 53-year-old Indigenous woman and the owner of Café de Raíz in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood, experienced a moment of sheer terror during the powerful magnitude 7.7 earthquake that rocked Mexico City on September 19, 2022.

Stressed? Grab A Bread: The Secret Behind Mexican Bolillo Tradition

Amidst the chaos and fear, she recalled a comforting tradition from her hometown of Huasteca, Veracruz. In her town, the community rallied together during times of distress, and one way to cope with fear and anxiety was by distributing “bolillos” or bread rolls.

Acting on this instinct, Carballo and her staff quickly grabbed 50 bolillos and began distributing them to those in need. Videos of their kind gesture spread rapidly on social media. As per tradition, they believed that eating a bolillo after a fright could help alleviate the fear.

The tradition of eating a bolillo after a scare is deeply ingrained in Mexican culture, with roots tracing back to the advice of grandmothers. Bolillos, which resemble long oval-shaped rolls with a crispy golden exterior and a soft, white core, play a significant role in this practice.

Mexican writer Alonso Ruvalcaba sees this act as more than just consuming bread in moments of distress; it is an offering of peace and solace, akin to the communion bread.

Interestingly, there’s also a scientific basis supporting this ancient custom. Nayeli Ortiz Olvera, a gastroenterologist and researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, explained that it is natural for people to seek nourishment after experiencing shock or acute stress.

Stress triggers a physiological response, stimulating the nervous system, elevating heart rate, and increasing breathing rate. This heightened state can lead to uncomfortable sensations in the stomach, such as nausea or the urge to use the restroom.

Bolillos, similar to French bread, come into play here. They are a source of carbohydrates, and when consumed, they neutralize stomach acid.

Furthermore, the act of chewing and diverting attention helps reduce agitation and restores a sense of control over one’s body. In times of stress, some people opt for tortillas or any available carbohydrates to achieve a similar soothing effect.

In essence, the bolillo serves as a remedy to mitigate the feelings of anguish and emptiness in the stomach brought on by fear and anxiety. According to Ortiz Olvera, the advice from grandmothers and mothers to eat a bolillo to dispel fear and anxiety is indeed grounded in science, and it does work.


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