Wild rice is a native traditional food of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and some areas of North Dakota.[1]
Wild rice is a native traditional food of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and some areas of North Dakota.[1]

Indigenous cuisine of the Americas includes all cuisines and food practices of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Contemporary Native peoples retain a varied culture of traditional foods, along with the addition of some post-contact foods that have become customary and even iconic of present-day Indigenous American social gatherings (for example, frybread). Foods like cornbread, turkey, cranberry, blueberry, hominy and mush have been adopted into the cuisine of the broader United States population from Native American cultures.

In other cases, documents from the early periods of Indigenous American contact with European, African, and Asian peoples have allowed the recovery and revitalization of Indigenous food practices that had formerly passed out of popularity.

The most important Indigenous American crops have generally included Indian corn (or maize, from the Taíno name for the plant), beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, wild rice, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, avocados, papayas, potatoes and chocolate.[1]

Indigenous cuisine of the Americas uses domesticated and wild native ingredients.[2] As the Americas cover a large range of biomes, and there are more than 574 currently federally recognized Native American tribes in the US alone, Indigenous cuisine can vary significantly by region and culture.[3][failed verification][4] For example, North American Native cuisine differs from Southwestern and Mexican cuisine in its simplicity and directness of flavor.

Background: History, Tradition, and Harvest

In traditional tribal societies, the gathering of shellfish, wild plants, berries and seeds is often done by women.

Native Americans located in the forests and woodlands had a wide variety of plant options. Native Americans who gathered much of the forest had access to many of the sustainable resources including, fleshy fruits, roots and tubers, and greens. Available greenery changed year to year, depending on weather conditions and the production cycle of perennial resources such as nut-bearing trees.

A popular source of meat, that offered a great amount of nutrition that Native Americans hunted were Bison, which were most traditional and important for the Plains Indians in the area between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

Each Native American territory encompasses considerable regional and temporal variation in topography, climate, and ecology. There have also been temporal and regional differences in Native American lifeways, including their subsistence practices and preparation.

Recipes were initially passed down through oral tradition. Over a period of hundreds of years, some tribes migrated into different climate zones, so by the time European settlers recorded these recipes the cuisine had probably adapted to use local ingredients. Some anthropologists propose that the southwestern Eastern Pueblo, Hopi and Zuni may have retained more of the original elements.[5]

Indigenous cuisine of North America

Further information: Eastern Agricultural Complex

Country food

For the American sense of the term, see Cuisine of the Southern United States.

See also: Inuit cuisine

Country food, in Canada, refers to the traditional diets of the Indigenous peoples in Canada (known in Canada as First Nations, Metis, and Inuit), especially in remote northern regions where Western food is an expensive import, and traditional foods are still relied upon.[6][7][8]

The Government of the Northwest Territories estimated in 2015 that nearly half of Northwest Territories residents in smaller communities relied on country food for 75% of their meat and fish intake; in larger communities the percentage was lower, with the lowest percentage relying on country foods (4%) being in Yellowknife, the capital and only "large community".

The most common country foods in the Northwest Territories' area include mammals and birds (caribou, moose, ducks, geese, seals, hare, grouse, ptarmigan), fish (lake trout, char, inconnu, whitefish, pike, burbot) and berries (blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, cloudberries).[9]

In the eastern Canadian Arctic, Inuit consume a diet of foods that are fished, hunted, and gathered locally. This may include caribou, walrus, ringed seal, bearded seal, beluga whale, polar bear, berries, and fireweed.

The cultural value attached to certain game species, and certain parts, varies. For example, in the James Bay region, a 1982 study found that beluga whale meat was principally used as dog food, whereas the blubber, or muktuk was a "valued delicacy".[10] Value also varies by age, with Inuit preferring younger ring seals, and often using the older ones for dog food.[11]

Contaminants in country foods are a public health concern in Northern Canada; volunteers are tested to track the spread of industrial chemicals from emitters (usually in the South) into the northern food web via the air and water.[12]

In 2017, the Government of the Northwest Territories committed to using country foods in the soon-to-open Stanton Territorial Hospital, despite the challenges of obtaining, inspecting, and preparing sufficient quantities of wild game and plants.[13]

In Southern Canada, wild foods (especially meats) are relatively rare in restaurants, due to wildlife conservation rules against selling hunted meat, as well as strict meat inspection rules. There is a cultural divide between rural and remote communities that rely on wild foods, and urban Canadians (the majority), who have little or no experience with them.[14]

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
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

Eastern Native American cuisine

Further information: Three Sisters (agriculture)

Corn was a vital source of food for Indigenous communities across the Northern Hemisphere. Sophisticated farming techniques were used to cultivate the crop throughout the American continent.
Corn was a vital source of food for Indigenous communities across the Northern Hemisphere. Sophisticated farming techniques were used to cultivate the crop throughout the American continent.

The essential staple foods of the Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands have traditionally been corn (also known as maize), beans, and squash, known as "The Three Sisters" because they were planted interdependently: the beans grew up the tall stalks of the corn, while the squash spread out at the base of the three plants and provided protection and support for the root systems.

Maple syrup is another essential food staple of the Eastern Woodlands peoples. Tree sap is collected from sugar maple trees during the beginning of springtime when the nights are still cold.[15] Birch bark containers are used in the process of making maple syrup, maple cakes, maple sugar, and maple taffy. When the sap is boiled to a certain temperature, the different variations of maple food products are created. When the sap starts to thicken, it can be poured into the snow to make taffy.[16]

Since the first colonists of New England had to adapt their foods to the local crops and resources, the Native influences of Southern New England Algonquian cuisine form a significant part of New England cuisine with dishes such as cornbread, succotash and Johnnycakes and ingredients such as corn, cranberries and local species of clam still enjoyed in the region today.[17]

The Wabanaki tribal nations and other eastern woodlands peoples have made nut milk and infant formula made from nuts and cornmeal,[18][19][20] while the Cherokee nation made Kanuchi soup from hickory nuts.[21]

Southeastern Native American cuisine

Southeastern Native American culture has formed the cornerstone of Southern cuisine from its origins through 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 technique known as nixtamalization.[22] Corn is used to make all kinds of dishes from the familiar cornbread and grits.

Though a less important staple, potatoes were also adopted from Native American cuisine and have been 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, many types of peppers, and sassafras all came to the settlers via Indigenous peoples. The Virginia Algonquian word pawcohiccora means hickory-nut meat or a nut milk drink made from it.

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[23]

Southeastern Native Americans traditionally supplement their diets with meats derived from the hunting of native game. Venison has always been an important meat staple, due to the abundance of white-tailed deer in the area. Rabbits, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons are also common.

Livestock, adopted from Europeans, in the form of hogs and cattle, are also kept. Aside from the more commonly consumed parts of the animal, it is traditional to also 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, is traditionally rendered and used for cooking and frying. Many of the early settlers were taught Southeastern Native American cooking methods.

Selected dishes

Great Plains Native American cuisine

Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies or Plains Indians have historically relied heavily on American bison (American buffalo) as a staple food source. One traditional method of preparation is to cut the meat into thin slices then dry it, either over a slow fire or in the hot sun, until it is hard and brittle. In this form it can last for months, making it a main ingredient to be combined with other foods, or eaten on its own.

One such use could be pemmican, a concentrated mixture of fat and protein, and fruits such as cranberries, Saskatoon berries, blueberries, cherries, chokecherries, and currants are sometimes added. Many parts of the bison were utilized and prepared in numerous ways, including: "boiled meat, tripe soup perhaps thickened with brains, roasted intestines, jerked/smoked meat, and raw kidneys, liver, tongue sprinkled with gall or bile were eaten immediately after a kill."[25]

The animals that Great Plains Indians consumed, like bison, deer, and antelope, were grazing animals. Due to this, they were high in omega-3 fatty acids, an essential acid that many diets lack.[26]

When asked to state traditional staple foods, a group of Plains elders identified prairie turnips (Psoralea esculenta), called timpsula or Tin'psila in the Lakota language group; fruits (chokecherries, June berries, plums, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, buffalo berries, gooseberries); potatoes; squash; dried meats (venison, buffalo, jack rabbit, pheasant, and prairie chicken); and wild rice as being these staple foods.[27]

"We landed at a Watlala village 200 men of Flatheads of 25 houses 50 canoes built of Straw, we were treated verry kindly by them, they gave us round root near the size of a hens egg roasted which they call Wap-to (wapato) to eate . . . . which they roasted in the embers until they became Soft"

—William Clark, Lewis and Clark Expedition

Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia) has a number of varieties and is found growing in damp marsh area around ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. The edible rhizomes were gathered and could be roasted in the embers of a fire, or dried, ground and the meal pressed into a cake which "served well as bread" as noted by Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. They are known today as broadleaf arrowhead, arrowhead, duckroot, or duck-potato.

Western Indigenous cuisine

In the Pacific Northwest, traditional diets include salmon and other fish, seafood, mushrooms, berries, and meats such as deer, duck, and rabbit.

In contrast to the Easterners, the Northwestern peoples are traditionally hunter-gatherers, primarily. The generally mild climate led to the development of an economy based on year-round abundant food supplies, rather than having to rely upon seasonal agriculture.

In what is now California, acorns can be ground into a flour that has at times served as the principal foodstuff for about 75 percent of the population,[28] and dried meats can be prepared during the dry season.[29]

Southwestern Indigenous cuisine

Ancestral Puebloans of the present-day Four Corners region of the United States, comprising Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, initially practiced subsistence agriculture by cultivating maize, beans, squash, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts from the pinyon pine, and game meat including venison and cuniculture, and freshwater fish such as Rio Grande cutthroat trout and rainbow trout are also traditional foods in the region.[citation needed]

Ancestral Puebloans are also known for their basketry and pottery, indicating both an agricultural surplus that needed to be carried and stored, and clay pot cooking. Grinding stones have been used to grind maize into meal for cooking. Archaeological digs indicate a very early domestication of turkeys for food.[citation needed]

New Mexican cuisine is heavily rooted in both Pueblo and Hispano food traditions, and is a prevalent cuisine in the American Southwest, especially in New Mexico.[citation needed]

The 2002 Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations won a James Beard Award, the first Native American cookbook so honored.[30][31] Publishers had told the author, Lois Ellen Frank, that there was no such thing as Native American cuisine.[32]

Alaska Native cuisine

Alaska Native cuisine consists of nutrient-dense foods such as seal, fish (salmon), and moose. Along with these, berries (huckleberries) and bird eggs are traditionally consumed by Alaska Natives.[33]

Seal, walruses, and polar bear are the large game that Alaska Natives hunt. Smaller game includes whitefish, Arctic char, Arctic hare, and ptarmigan.

Due to weather, edible plants like berries are only available to be consumed in the summer, so the people have a diet very high in fat and protein, but low in carbohydrates.

The game that is hunted is also used for clothing. The intestines of large mammals are used to make waterproof clothing and caribou fur is used to make warm clothing.[34]


Drying salmon filets
Drying salmon filets
Pemmican Ball
Pemmican Ball


Indigenous cuisine of the Circum-Caribbean

Jerk chicken with plaintains, rice and honey biscuit
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, and fished. The Taíno cultivated cassava, sweet potato, maize, beans, squash, pineapple, peanut, and peppers. Today these cultural groups have mostly assimilated into the surrounding population, but their culinary legacy lives on.

Indigenous cuisine of Mesoamerica


Main articles: Aztec cuisine and Maya cuisine

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

Some known dishes

Indigenous cuisine of South America

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

Andean cultures

Main articles: Inca cuisine and Muisca cuisine

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

Other South American cultures

Cooking utensils

Metate and mano
Metate and mano

The earliest utensils, including bowls, knives, spoons, grinders, and griddles, were made from all kinds of materials, such as rock and animal bone. Gourds were also initially cultivated, hollowed, and dried to be used as bowls, spoons, ladles, and storage containers.

Many Indigenous cultures also developed elaborate ceramics for making bowls and cooking pots, and basketry for making containers. Nobility in the Andean and Mesoamerican civilizations were even known to have utensils and vessels smelted from gold, silver, copper, or other minerals.

Crops and ingredients

A russet potato with sprouts
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
The bean pods of the mesquite (above) can be dried and ground into flour, adding a sweet, nutty taste to breads
A maple syrup tap
A maple syrup tap
Several large pumpkins
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).
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).

Non-animal foods

Hunted or livestock

Bison cow and calf
Bison cow and calf

Notable chefs and food writers

See also


  1. ^ a b "Native American Food: Agriculture, Hunting and Gathering, Fishing, and other American Indian food sources".
  2. ^ "Welcome to NativeTech: Indigenous Food and Traditional Recipes". NativeTech: Native American Technology & Art.
  3. ^ "The Native American Culinary Association Forum Index". The Native American Culinary Association. Archived from the original on April 22, 2007.
  4. ^ Severson, Kim (November 23, 2005). "Native Foods Nourish Again". The New York Times. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  5. ^ Berzok, Linda Murray (2005). American Indian Food. Greenwood. ISBN 9780313329890. Retrieved August 16, 2019.
  6. ^ Usher, Peter J (1976). "Evaluating Country Food in the Northern Native Economy" (PDF). Arctic. Arctic Institute of North America. 29 (2): 105–120. doi:10.14430/arctic2795. JSTOR 40509261. Retrieved November 25, 2022.
  7. ^ Wein, Eleanor E.; et al. (1990). "Food Consumption Patterns and Use of Country Foods by Native Canadians near Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada". Arctic. 44 (3): 196–206. doi:10.14430/arctic1539.
  8. ^ http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/sites/enr/files/weights_of_wildlife.pdf "in deriving estimates of the economic value of wildlife used as food (known in northern Canada as country food or traditional food)..." page 2
  9. ^ "18.4 Trends in country food use in NWT regions". NWT State of the Environment Report (Report). Government of Northwest Territories. 2022. Retrieved November 25, 2022.
  10. ^ http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/sites/enr/files/weights_of_wildlife.pdf page 16
  11. ^ Ashley, pg 22
  12. ^ Williams, Ollie (January 25, 2016). "Country food contaminants: NWT residents undergo tests". 100.1 True North FM. Retrieved November 25, 2022.
  13. ^ Brockman, Alex (September 21, 2017). "Traditional Indigenous food in a hospital? That's the plan for new N.W.T. Facility". CBC News. Retrieved November 25, 2022.
  14. ^ "Kill What You Eat". April 10, 2017.
  15. ^ "Maple Sugarbush Questions and Answers" (PDF). University of Minnesota Duluth. Retrieved December 15, 2018.
  16. ^ Nerburn, Kent (Project Director) (1991). We Choose To Remember: More Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe People. Bemidji, Minnesota: Arrow Printing. p. 8.
  17. ^ Freedman, P. (2019). American Cuisine: And How It Got This Way. (pp. 1-40). New York, NY: Liveright Publishing. ISBN 978-1631494628
  18. ^ a b Kamila, Avery Yale (November 8, 2020). "Wabanaki Enjoying Nut Milk and Butter for Centuries". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved November 26, 2022 – via Atowi.
  19. ^ Kamila, Avery Yale (November 8, 2020). "Vegan Kitchen: Americans have been enjoying nut milk and nut butter for at least 4 centuries". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved November 26, 2022.
  20. ^ Diemer-Eaton, Jessica (October 2014). "Food Nuts of the Eastern Woodlands Native Peoples". www.woodlandindianedu.com. Archived from the original on January 8, 2021.
  21. ^ Freedman, Robert Louis (1976). "Native North American Food Preparation Techniques". Boletín Bibliográfico de Antropología Americana (1973-1979). Pan American Institute of Geography and History. 38 (47): 142. JSTOR 43996285., s.v. Hickory Nut Soup (Cherokee)
  22. ^ Dragonwagon, Crescent (2007). The Cornbread Gospels. Workman Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7611-1916-6.
  23. ^ Hudson, Charles (1976). "A Conquered People". The Southeastern Indians. University of Tennessee Press. pp. 498–499. ISBN 0-87049-248-9.
  24. ^ "Sofkey | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture". www.okhistory.org. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
  25. ^ "American Indian Health - Foods of Plains Tribes".
  26. ^ The Dakota Diet: Health Secrets from the Great Plains.
  27. ^ Colby, Sarah E; et al. (2012). "Traditional Native American Foods". Journal of Ecological Anthropology. 15: 65–73. doi:10.5038/2162-4593.15.1.5.
  28. ^ Redhawk (2004). "Cooking With Acorns". North American Indian Recipes. "the People's Paths home page!".
  29. ^ "The History of Jerky: The incomplete but interesting history of jerky". The JerkyFAQ. April 10, 2012.
  30. ^ Swanson, Stevenson (2003). "Star grazing". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  31. ^ Biggers, Ashley M. (September 5, 2018). "The first truly American cuisine is having a revival". CNN. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  32. ^ Frederich, Lori (November 20, 2013). "Chef Lois Ellen Frank demystifies .ew Native American cuisine". OnMilwaukee.com. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  33. ^ "Traditional Foods in Native America: A compendium of traditional foods stories from American Indian and Alaska Native communities" (PDF).
  34. ^ "Inuit".
  35. ^ "Acorn Mush". NativeTech: Native American Technology & Art.
  36. ^ "Cherokee Bean Bread Recipe". www.pbs.org. Retrieved March 19, 2021.
  37. ^ "Bird brain stew". NativeTech: Native American Technology & Art.
  38. ^ "Buffalo Stew (Tanka-me-a-lo)". NativeTech: Native American Technology & Art.
  39. ^ Rudes, Blair A. (December 15, 2011). "Coastal Algonquian Language Sampler". Coastal Carolina Indian Center. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  40. ^ "ahpòn". Lenape Talking Dictionary. Delaware Tribe of Indians. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  41. ^ "How Long Does Pemmican Last". May 27, 2017.
  42. ^ "How To Make Pemmican: A Survival Superfood That Can Last 50 Years - Off The Grid News". Off The Grid News. June 2, 2015. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  43. ^ "pemmican | Definition, History, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  44. ^ "In New Mexico, Bakers Keep the Tradition of Pueblo Bread Alive". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved March 19, 2021.
  45. ^ "sapàn". Lenape Talking Dictionary. Archived from the original on October 4, 2011. Retrieved June 26, 2011.
  46. ^ "Sumac Lemonade Recipe". PBS Food. Retrieved March 19, 2021.
  47. ^ Aguilar, Valerie (2014). "Chocolate - Ancient Drink of the Gods". Hispanic Culture Site. BellaOnline.
  48. ^ Brandon; Courtney; Jonelle; Amanda. "Mayan Cuisine". Putnam County High School. Archived from the original on April 17, 2009.
  49. ^ "How to Make Delicious Peruvian Purple Corn Pudding". The Spruce Eats. Retrieved March 20, 2021.
  50. ^ "Patasca - Pork, Sheep or Beef Head Stew. Bolivian Food and Recipes". BoliviaBella. Retrieved March 20, 2021.