Native American cuisine

Frybread is a staple food of Native American cuisine.[1]
A 19th-century illustration, "Sugar-Making Among the Indians in the North". Aboriginal peoples living in the northeastern part of North America were the first people known to have produced maple syrup and maple sugar.

Native American cuisine includes all food practices of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Information about Native American cuisine comes from a great variety of sources. Modern-day native peoples retain a rich body of traditional foods, some of which have become iconic of present-day Native American social gatherings (for example, frybread). Foods like cornbread, turkey, cranberry, blueberry, hominy and mush are known to have been adopted into the cuisine of the United States from Native American groups. In other cases, documents from the early periods of contact with European, African, and Asian peoples allow the recovery of food practices which passed out of popularity.

Modern-day Native American cuisine can somewhat cover as wide of range as the imagination of the chef who adopts or adapts this cuisine to the present.[2] The use of indigenous domesticated and wild food ingredients can represent Native American food and cuisine.[3] North American Native Cuisine can differ somewhat from Southwestern and Central Cuisine in its simplicity and directness of flavor. The use of ramps, wild ginger, miners' lettuce, and juniper can impart subtle flavours to various dishes. Native American food is one of living flavours and ideas. Different ingredients can change the whole meaning of Native American cuisine. A chef preparing a Native American dish can adopt, create, and alter as his or her imagination dictates.[4]


Native American cuisine of North America

The essential staple foods of the Eastern Woodlands Aboriginal Americans were maize (also called "corn"), beans, and squash. These were called the "Three Sisters," because they were planted interdependently: the beans grew up the tall stalks of the maize, while the squash spread out at the base of the three plants and provided protection and support for the root system. A number of other domesticated crops were also popular during some time periods in the Eastern Woodlands, including a local version of quinoa, a variety of amaranth, sumpweed/marsh elder, little barley, maygrass, and sunflower.

In the Northwest of what is now the United States, Native Americans used salmon and other fish, seafood, mushrooms, berries, and meats such as deer, duck, and rabbit. Rum was popular, having first been introduced to the Western Hemisphere by Chistopher Columbus.[5] In contrast to the Easterners, the Northwestern aboriginal peoples were principally hunter-gatherers. The generally mild climate meant they did not need to develop an economy based upon agriculture but instead could rely year-round on the abundant food supplies of their region. In what is now California, acorns were ground into a flour that was the principal foodstuff for about seventy-five percent of the population,[6] and dried meats were prepared during the season when drying was possible.[7]

Southeastern Native American cuisine

Southeastern Native American culture has formed the cornerstone of Southern cuisine from its origins till the present day. From Southeastern Native American culture came one of the main staples of the Southern diet: corn (maize), either ground into meal or limed with an alkaline salt to make hominy, using a Native American technology known as nixtamalization.[8] Corn was used to make all kinds of dishes from the familiar cornbread and grits to liquors such as whiskey, which were important trade items. Though a lesser staple, potatoes were also adopted from Native American cuisine and were used in many ways similar to corn. Native Americans introduced the first non-Native American Southerners to many other vegetables still familiar on southern tables. Squash, pumpkin, many types of beans, tomatoes (though Europeans initially considered them poisonous), many types of peppers, and sassafras all came to the settlers via the native tribes.

Many fruits are available in this region. Muscadines, blackberries, raspberries, and many other wild berries were part of Southern Native Americans' diet.

To a far greater degree than anyone realizes, several of the most important food dishes of the Southeastern Indians live on today in the "soul food" eaten by both black and white Southerners. Hominy, for example, is still eaten ... Sofkee live on as grits ... cornbread [is] used by Southern cooks ... Indian fritters ... variously known as "hoe cake," ... or "Johnny cake." ... Indians boiled cornbread is present in Southern cuisine as "corn meal dumplings," ... and as "hush puppies," ... Southerns cook their beans and field peas by boiling them, as did the Indians ... like the Indians they cure their meat and smoke it over hickory coals.

—- Charles Hudson, The Southeastern Indians.[9]

Southeastern Native Americans also supplemented their diets with meats derived from the hunting of native game. Venison was an important meat staple, due to the abundance of white-tailed deer in the area. They also hunted rabbits, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons. Livestock, adopted from Europeans, in the form of hogs and cattle were kept. When game or livestock was killed, the entire animal was used.[citation needed] Aside from the meat, it was not uncommon for them to eat organ meats such as liver, brains, and intestines. This tradition remains today in hallmark dishes like chitterlings, commonly called chitlins, which are the fried large intestines of hogs; livermush, a common dish in the Carolinas made from hog liver; and pork brains and eggs. The fat of the animals, particularly of hogs, was rendered and used for cooking and frying. Many of the early settlers were taught Southeastern Native American cooking methods.


Corn bread
  • Acorn bread
  • Acorn mush, from the Miwok people[10]
  • Akutaq, also called "Eskimo ice cream," made from caribou or moose tallow and meat, berries, seal oil, and sometimes fish, whipped together with snow or water.
  • Bean bread, made with corn meal and beans, popular among the Cherokee
  • Bird brain stew, from the Cree nation[11]
  • Black drink or asi, a Southeastern ceremonial drink made from the yaupon holly
  • Buffalo stew, from the Lakota people, also called tanka-me-a-lo[12]
  • Chinook olives, a type of cured acorn eaten by the aboriginal people of the Columbia River Valley.
  • Cornbread
  • Dried meats like jerky and smoked salmon strips
  • Filé powder, made from sassafras leaves, used by the Choctaw for flavoring and thickening soups and stews as well as for herbal medicine
  • Frybread, a dish made from ingredients distributed to Native Americans living on reservations
  • Green chili stew
  • Mutton stew, from the Navajo people
  • Nokake, Algonquian hoecakes made of cornmeal
  • Pemmican, a concentrated food consisting of dried pulverized meat, dried berries, and rendered fat
  • Piki bread, from the Hopi people
  • Psindamoakan, a Lenape hunter's food made of parched cornmeal mixed with maple sugar
  • Pueblo bread
  • Salted salmon, an Inuit dish of brined salmon in a heavy concentration of salt water, left for months to soak up salts.
  • Sapan (pronounced [ˈsaːpːʌn]),[13] cornmeal mush, a staple of Lenape cuisine
  • Stink fish, an Inuit dish of dried fish, kept underground until ripe, for later consumption; also done with fish heads.
  • Succotash, a dish of beans and corn
  • Tiswin, a term used for several fermented beverages in the Southwest, including a corn or fruit beer of the Apache and a saguaro sap beer of the Tohono O'odham
  • Walrus flipper soup, an Inuit dish made from walrus flippers
  • Wojape, a Plains Indian pudding of mashed, cooked berries

Native American cuisine of the Circum-Caribbean

Jerk chicken with plaintains, rice and honey biscuit

This region comprises the cultures of the Arawaks, the Caribs, and the Ciboney. The Taíno of the Greater Antilles were the first New World people to encounter Columbus. Prior to European contact, these groups foraged, hunted, fished. The Taíno cultivated cassava, sweet potato, maize, beans, squash, pineapple, peanut, and peppers. Today these groups have mostly vanished, but their culinary legacy lives on.

  • Barbacoa, the origin of the English word barbecue, a method of slow-grilling meat over a fire pit
  • Jerk, a style of cooking meat that originated with the Taíno of Jamaica. Meat was applied with a dry rub of allspice, Scotch bonnet pepper, and perhaps additional spices, before being smoked over fire or wood charcoal.
  • Casabe, a crispy, thin flatbread made from cassava root widespread in the Pre-Columbian Caribbean and Amazonia.
  • Bammy, a Jamaican fried bread made from cassava and coconut milk or water.
  • Guanime, a Puerto Rican food similar to the tamale.
  • Funche or fungi, a corn mush traditional to Puerto Rico.
  • Cassareep, a sauce, condiment, or thickening agent made by boiling down the extracted juices of bitter cassava root.
  • Pepperpot, a spicy stew of Taino origin based on meat, vegetables, chili peppers, and boiled-down cassava juice, with a legacy stretching from Jamaica to Guyana.
  • Bush teas, popular as herbal remedies in the Virgin Islands and other parts of the Caribbean, often derive from indigenous sources, such as ginger thomas, soursop, inflamation bush, kenip, wormgrass, worry wine, and many other leaves, barks, and herbs.
  • Ouicou, a fermented, cassava-based beer brewed by the Caribs of the Lesser Antilles.
  • Taumali or taumalin, a Carib sauce made from the green liver meat of lobsters, chile pepper, and lime juice.

Native American cuisine of Mesoamerica


The pre-conquest cuisine of the Native Americans of Mesoamerica made a major contribution to shaping modern-day Mexican cuisine. The cultures involved included the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and many more (see the List of pre-Columbian civilizations).

Some known dishes

Native American cuisine of South America

Roast guinea pig (cuy)
Cheese-filled arepa
Chipa, cheese bread

Andean cultures

This currently includes recipes known from the Quechua, Aymara and Nazca of the Andes.

  • Grilled guinea pig, a native to most of the Andes region this small rodent has been culivated for at least 4000 years
  • Fried green tomatoes, a nightshade relative native to Peru
  • Saraiaka, a corn liquor.
  • Chicha, a generic name for any number of indigenous beers found in South America. Though chichas made from various types of corn are the most common in the Andes, chicha in the Amazon Basin frequently use manioc. Variations found throughout the continent can be based on amaranth, quinoa, peanut, potato, coca, and many other ingredients.
  • Chicha morada, a Peruvian, sweet, unfermented drink made from purple corn, fruits, and spices.
  • Colada morada, a thickened, spiced fruit drink based on the Andean blackberry, traditional to the Day of the Dead ceremonies held in Ecuador. It is typically served with guagua de pan, a bread shaped like a swaddled infant (formerly made from cornmeal in Pre-Columbian times), though other shapes can be found in various regions.
  • Quinoa Porridge
  • Ch'arki, a type of dried meat
  • Humitas, similar to modern-day Tamales, a thick mixture of corn, herbs and onion, cooked in a corn-leaf wrapping. The name is modern, meaning bow-tie, because of the shape in which it's wrapped.
  • Mate de coca
  • Pachamanca, stew cooked in a hautía oven
  • Pataska, spicy stew made from boiled maize, potatoes, and dried meat.
  • Ceviche, marinated in acidic tumbo juice in Pre-Columbian times
  • Cancha or tostada, fried golden hominy
  • Llajwa, salsa of Bolivia
  • Llapingachos, mashed-potato cakes from Ecuador
  • Tocosh (Togosh), a traditional Quechua food prepared from fermented potato pulp

Other South American cultures

Cooking utensils

Metate and mano

The earliest utensils, including knives, spoons, grinders, and griddles, were made from all kinds of organic materials, such as rock and animal bone. Gourds were also initially cultivated, hollowed, and dried to be used as bowls, spoons, ladels, and storage containers. Many Native American cultures also developed elaborate weaving and pottery traditions for making bowls, cooking pots, and containers. Nobility in the Andean and Mesoamerican civilizations were even known to have utensils and vessels smelted from gold, silver, copper, or other minerals.

  • Molinillo, a device used by Mesoamerican royalty for frothing cacao drinks
  • Metate, a stone grinding slab used with a stone mano to process meal in Mesoamerica and one of the most notable Pre-Columbian artifacts in Costa Rica
  • Molcajete, a basalt stone bowl, used with a tejolote to grind ingredients as a Mesoamerican form of mortar and pestle
  • Batan, an Andean grinding slab used in conjunction with a small stone uña
  • Paila, an Andean earthenware bowl
  • Cuia, a gourd used for drinking mate in South America
  • Comal, a griddle used since Pre-Columbian times in Mexico and Central America for a variety of purposes, especially to cook tortillas
  • Burén, a clay griddle used by the Taíno
  • Cooking baskets were woven from a variety of local fibers and sometimes coated with clay to improved durability. The notable thing about basket cooking and some native clay pot cooking is that the heat source, i.e. hot stones or charcoal, is used inside the utensil rather than outside. (also see Cookware and bakeware)

Crops and ingredients

A Russet potato with sprouts
The bean pods of the mesquite (above) can be dried and ground into flour, adding a sweet, nutty taste to breads
Several large pumpkins
Acorns of Sessile Oak. The acorn, or oak nut, is the nut of the oaks and their close relatives (genera Quercus and Lithocarpus, in the family Fagaceae).

Maize, beans and squash were known as the three sisters for their symbiotic relationship when grown together by the North American and Meso-American natives. If the South Americans had similar methods of what is known as companion planting it is lost to us today.

Non-animal foodstuffs

Hunted or livestock

Bison cow and calf

See also



Niethammer, Carolyn. "American Indian Food and Lore." New York: A Simon & Schuster Macmillan Company, 1974. ISBN 0-02-010000-0

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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