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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 cover as wide of range as the imagination of the chef who adopts or adapts this cuisine to present. The use of indigenous domesticated and wild food ingredients can represent Native American food and cuisine. North American Native Cuisine can differ somewhat from Southwestern and Mexican 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 not a historic subject but one of living flavours and ideas. A chef preparing a Native American dish can adopt, create, and alter as his or her imagination dictates.

Native American cuisine of North America

American Indians of the Eastern Woodlands planted what was known as the "Three Sisters": corn, beans, and squash. In addition, a number of other domesticated crops were 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 Northwestern part of what is now the United States Native Americans used salmon and other fish, seafood, mushrooms, and berries, among other foods, including meats such as deer, duck, and rabbit. Rum was popular after its introduction by Chistopher Columbus. They were hunter-gatherers, not needing agriculture to supplement the abundant food supplies of their habitat. In what is now California, acorns were ground into flour, the main food for about 75 per cent of the population, and dried meats were prepared during the season when drying was possible.

Southeastern Native American cuisine

Southern Native American culture forms the cornerstone of Southern cuisine. From their 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, also called masa, in a Native American technology known as nixtamalization. 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 similar ways as corn.

Native Americans introduced the first Southerners to many other vegetables still familiar on southern tables. Squash, pumpkin, many types of beans, tomatoes (though these were initially considered poisonous), many types of pepper 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.

Southern 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 hog and cattle were kept. When game or livestock was killed, the entire animal was used. 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 chit’lins) which are fried large intestines of hog, livermush (a common dish in the Carolinas made from hog liver), and pork brains and eggs. The fat of the animals, particularly hogs, was rendered and used for cooking and frying. Many of the early settlers were taught Southern Native American cooking methods.


Corn bread

Native American cuisine of the Circum-Caribbean

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.

Jerk chicken with plaintains, rice and honey biscuit
  • Jerk, a style of cooking meat that originated with the Taíno of Jamaicamarker. 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 Jamaicamarker to Guyanamarker.
  • 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

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
Roast guinea pig (cuy)
  • Fried green tomatoes, a nightshade relative native to Perumarker
  • Saraiaka, a corn liquor [187657].
  • 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 Peruvianmarker, 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 Ecuadormarker. 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

Other South American cultures

Cheese-filled arepa

Cooking utensils

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 and mano
  • 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 Ricamarker
  • 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

Crops and ingredients

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

See also



External links


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

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