REFERENCE: While I knew the foods, compiled the list, and looked for specific things (Nation, Culture, History, Region) the words are not my own. Several resources helped me with the words, including Wikipedia, tribal links, recipes links, and others. Use "Google" with any selection of words to find the original site.
A very few of these foods existed simultaneously outside on the Americas (in other countries), but they might have been different species (ie: the sweet potato is American and the yam is African) or different varieties (ie: grapes, rice) or migratory with a "home" in the Americas (ie: lobster). I find these phrases help me to remember categories for Native American Foods:
- Nuts & Berries
- CBS - Corn, Beans & Squash
- Tomatoes, Potatoes, & Peppers
- Fish, Shellfish & Rice
Agave: Native to the southern and western United States and central and tropical South America, plants have a large rosette of thick fleshy leaves, each ending generally in a sharp point and with a spiny margin. Related to Yucca, not a cacti, closely related to Aloe whose leaves are similar in appearance. The name "century plant" refers to the time the plant takes to flower. The juice from many species of agave can cause acute contact dermatitis. Episodes of itching may recur up to a year thereafter, even though there is no longer a visible rash. Dried plants can be handled with bare hands with little or no effect.
Amaranth: The Amaranth plant is native to South and North America. It was once a staple and the preferred grain of the Aztec, Inca and Maya civilizations. Hermando Cortes was disturbed by the association of amaranth with the practice of human sacrifice among the Aztecs. He outlawed the broad-leafed amaranth grain plant and made its use by the native Indians punishable by death. On religious holidays, Aztec women ground the seed, mixed it with honey, and then shaped it into idols that were eaten ceremoniously. To the Spanish catholic fathers this looked like an apostate form of the catholic religion, so they decided the way to get rid of the sacrifices was to get rid of the amaranth. The fact that the Aztec were strong and healthy because they were eating the amaranth plant and amaranth seed was also likely a key factor in their decision to outlaw the use of amaranth.
Arrowroot: Mayan starch obtained from the rhizomes (rootstock) of the Cocoa bean (Nahuatl: cacaua). Archaeological studies show evidence of arrowroot cultivation as early as 7,000 years ago. The name may come from aru-aru (meal of meals) in the language of the Arawak people, for whom the plant is a staple. It has also been suggested that the name comes from arrowroot's use in treating poison arrow wounds, as it draws out the poison when applied to the site of the injury.
Avocado: The avocado is a tree native to Central Mexico and classified in the flowering plant family along with cinnamon, camphor and bay laurel. The oldest evidence of avocado use was found in a cave located in Coxcatlán, Puebla, Mexico, that dates to around 10,000 BC. The avocado tree also has a long history of cultivation in Central and South America; a water jar shaped like an avocado, dating to AD 900, was discovered in the pre-Incan city of Chan Chan.
Bell Peppers: Cultivated to produce different colors, including red, yellow, orange and green, native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America, Pepper seeds were carried to Spain in 1493 and spread to other European, African and Asian countries. China is the world's largest producer in the world, followed by Mexico.
Black Bean: One of over 500 varieties of kidney beans, black beans are also known as turtle beans, caviar criollo, and frijoles negros. These beans date back at least 7,000 years, when they were a staple food in the diets of Central and South Americans. Popular in Latin American cuisine, though it can also be found in Cajun and Creole cuisines of south Louisiana.
Blueberries: Blueberries are flowering plants of the genus Vaccinium (a genus which also includes cranberries and bilberries). The dark-blue berries are perennial and native to North America. For centuries, blueberries were gathered from the forests and the bogs by Native Americans and consumed fresh and also preserved. The blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms the shape of a perfect five-pointed star; the elders of the tribe would tell of how the Great Spirit sent "star berries" to relieve the children's hunger during a famine. A tea made from the leaves of the plant was thought to be good for the blood. Blueberry juice was used to treat coughs. The juice also made an excellent dye for baskets and cloth. The dried berries were also crushed into a powder and rubbed into meat for flavor. A beef jerky called Sautauthig (pronounced saw'-taw-teeg), was made with dried blueberries and meat and was consumed year round.
Brandy: Made from corn. See "corn."
Cashew: Derives from the indigenous Tupi name, acajú. While native to Northern South America, the Portuguese took the cashew plant to Goa, India, between the years of 1560 and 1565. From there it spread throughout Southeast Asia and eventually Africa.
Cultivated or gathered by the Aztecs, Mayas, Tehuantapecs, and other Native American peoples, Chia seeds were a diet component and a basic survival ration of Aztec warriors. In most of these cultures, chia was a staple food considered to be sacred, and was consumed specifically for greater energy by runners, warriors, and athletes. Supposedly, 1 tablespoon of the seeds could sustain a person for 24 hours. A better source of omega-3 fatty acids than flaxseed (the fats protect against inflammation and heart disease), Chia seeds come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family that grows in southern Mexico. The Aztecs also used chia medicinally to relieve joint pain and skin conditions. It was a major crop in central and southern Mexico well into the 16th century, but it was banned after the Spanish conquest because of its association with the Aztec "pagan" religion.
Chocolate: The cacao tree may have originated in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, current day Venezuela, where today, examples of wild cacao still can be found. The dried and fully fermented fatty seed is where cocoa solids and cocoa butter are extracted, and are the basis of chocolate. The Olmecs first cultivated it in at least 1500 BC. The cocoa bean was a common currency throughout Mesoamerica before the Spanish conquest. Moctezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs, took no other beverage than chocolate, served in a golden goblet, flavored with vanilla or other spices, and whipped into a froth that dissolved in the mouth.
Corn: From Taíno mahiz, domesticated in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times, it is the most widely grown crop in the Americas with 332 million metric tons grown annually in the U.S.A. Approximately 40% of the crop - 130 million tons - is used for corn ethanol. Outside the Americas, the common term for maize was "corn." This was originally the English term for any cereal crop, so even foods that were not maize were called “corn.” In North America, its meaning has been restricted since the 19th century to maize, as it was shortened from “Indian corn.” The term “Indian corn” now refers specifically to multi-colored “field corn.”
Click here for more on the history of corn: One Cob, Many Flavors http://www.visualnews.com/2014/03/24/one-cob-many-flavors-recipes-will-rethinking-next-bbq/?utm_source=VisualNews&utm_campaign=48b4496e1d-RSS_EMAIL&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1756fd36de-48b4496e1d-281927425
Cranberries: A group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines. Native Americans used cranberries in a variety of foods, especially for pemmican, wound medicine and dye. Calling the red berries Sassamanash, Native Americans may have introduced cranberries to starving English settlers in Massachusetts who incorporated the berries into traditional feasts.
Goosefoot (Quinoa): Grown at 10,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level, quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, brought sustenance to the Inca people and allowed them to thrive in the harsh living conditions that prevail at such altitudes where oxygen is considerably reduced. Bolivian athletes combine coca leaves and ash from the quinoa plant to increase the body's oxygen because quinoa ash releases alkaloids in the coca. It is a pseudo-cereal rather than a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the grass family. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds. Originating in the Andean region of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, it was successfully domesticated 3000 to 4000 years ago. The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or “mother of all grains,” and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using “golden implements.” During the European conquest of South America, the Spanish colonists scorned quinoa as “food for Indians.” Under Pizarro's rule in 1532, the Inca were forbidden to practice their ceremonial rituals that centered on quinoa. Fortunately, it still grew wild in the higher altitudes where it could be hidden from the Spaniards. Small amounts were consumed in secret.
Jalapeño Peppers: Commonly picked and consumed while still green, allowed to fully ripen and turn crimson red, and cultivated from a species Capsicum annuum which originated in Mexico.
Lobster: In North America, the American lobster did not achieve popularity until the mid-19th century, when New Yorkers and Bostonians developed a taste for it. Prior to this time, lobster was considered a mark of poverty or as a food for indentured servants or lower members of society in Maine, Massachusetts and the Canadian Maritimes, and servants specified in employment agreements that they would not eat lobster more than twice per week. American lobster was initially deemed worthy only of being used as fertilizer or fish bait, and it was not until well into the twentieth century that it was viewed as more than a low-priced canned staple food. Their longevity allows them to reach impressive sizes. According to the Guinness World Records, the largest lobster was caught in Nova Scotia, Canada, and weighed 44.4 lb.
Maple Syrup: The Ojibwe first collected the sap called "sweet water" and processed it into syrup or Sinzibuckwud (Algonquin, literally "drawn from trees"). Syrups must be at least 66 percent sugar and be made exclusively from maple sap to qualify as maple syrup in Canada. In the United States, it must be made almost entirely from maple sap. One of the most popular stories involves maple sap being used in place of water to cook the venison served to a chief. Other stories credit the development of maple syrup production to Nanabozho, Glooskap, or the squirrel. Native People celebrate the Sugar Moon (the first full moon of spring) with a Maple Dance.
Oysters: The Wampanoags resided on Narragansett Bay and Wampum was made from shells, usually clam or oyster, middens testify to the prehistoric importance of oysters as food worldwide and in the early 19th century, oysters were cheap and mainly eaten by the working class. Throughout the 19th century, oyster beds in New York harbor became the largest source of oysters worldwide. On any day in the late 19th century, six million oysters could be found on barges tied up along the city’s waterfront.
Papaya: Originally from southern Mexico (particularly Chiapas and Veracruz), Central America, and northern South America, the papaya is now cultivated in most tropical countries. In cultivation, it grows rapidly, fruiting within 3 years. It is, however, highly frost sensitive, limiting papaya production to tropical lands.
Peanut: The peanut, or groundnut, is a species in the legume or "bean" family, so it is not a nut. The peanut was probably first cultivated in the valleys of Peru. Archeologists have dated the oldest specimens to about 7,600 years. Cultivation spread as far as Mesoamerica where the Spanish conquistadors found the tlalcacahuatl (Nahuatl = peanut) being offered for sale in the marketplace of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City).
Pecans: From an Algonquian word, meaning a nut requiring a stone to crack. It is a species of hickory native to south-central North America and Mexico. Like fruit of all other members of the hickory genus, it is not a nut, but technically a drupe, a fruit with a single stone or pit surrounded by a husk that can provide 2 to 5 times more calories per unit weight than wild game and require no preparation. The fruit of the previous growing season is still edible when found on the ground.
Pineapple: Named for resemblance to the pine cone, Indigenous People of southern Brazil and Paraguay spread the pineapple throughout South America, it eventually reached the Caribbean where Columbus discovered it in 1493 and brought it back with him to Europe.
Potatoes: From the Andes, belongs to the nightshade family, first introduced outside the Andes region four centuries ago, and has become an integral part of much of the world's cuisine. It is the world's fourth-largest food crop, following rice, wheat, and maize. Following the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, the Spanish introduced the potato to Europe in the second half of the 16th century and there are now over a thousand different types of potatoes.
Pumpkin: Native to North America. They typically have a thick, orange or yellow shell, creased from the stem to the bottom, containing the seeds and pulp. The version of Cinderella written by Charles Perrault in 1697 gained popularity with his additions of a pumpkin, fairy-godmother and the introduction of glass slippers.
Quinine: Developed Quechua Indians of Peru and Bolivia, has antipyretic (fever-reducing), antimalarial, analgesic (painkilling), and anti-inflammatory properties.
Raisin (Grapes): There are 15 varieties of wild native American grapes. In the year 1000 AD, Leif Ericsson the Lucky sailed from Norway across the North Atlantic Ocean and returned with stories about a new country he named Vinland because of the abundance of wild grapes found growing there. Historians agree that Vinland was the east coast of North America but they are not sure where he first set foot. Native purple grapes belonging to the Vitis genus proliferated in the wild across North America, and were a part of the diet of many North American Native Americans, but were considered by European colonists to be unsuitable for wine. Native Americans used the leaves to make a tea that treated a variety of illnesses or poultices to treat several painful conditions. Native Americans in Florida made a blue dye from the grapes. For centuries, grapes have been juiced to be drunk fresh or fermented. Raisins are rich in several nutrients including boron. Stuffed grapes leaves is a gourmet dish served in some cultures.
Raspberry: The North American red raspberry was first reported in 1607 by French lawyer Marc Lesarbot, when he and fellow members of his expedition to Canada "amused themselves by gathering raspberries." Edward Winslow of Plymouth Plantation fame in 1621 also listed raspberries among wild Massachusetts’ fruits. The Algonquin used the root for diarrhea while the Cherokee used the root for coughs and toothache. A tea was made for menstrual problems as well as parturition. Both the Chippewa and Pottawatomie used the root bark for the eyes. The Chippewa made a tea of the root bark and washed the eyes three times per day for cataracts. The Chippewa also used red raspberry for dysentery and measles. The Ojibwa used a decoction of the root for bowel complaints in children. The Iroquois had many uses for red raspberry. They made a tea of the young twigs. The leaves were for kidney complaints. Red raspberry was combined with snakeroot for “ladies who are run down because of sickness of period.” The root tips were boiled into a concentrated decoction to be used as a blood purifier and to lower or raise blood pressure.
Squash is loosely grouped into summer squash or winter squash, depending on whether they are harvested as immature squash: zucchini, pattypan and yellow crookneck) or mature fruit (butternut, Hubbard, buttercup, ambercup, acorn, spaghetti squash, pumpkin). Gourds are from the same family as squashes (pumpkin). First cultivated in Mesoamerica some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, Squash was one of the "Three Sisters" planted by Native Americans. The Three Sisters were the three main native crop plants: maize (corn), beans, and squash. These were usually planted together, with the cornstalk providing support for the climbing beans, and shade for the squash. The squash vines provided ground cover to limit weeds. Weeds can be detrimental to the growing conditions of the squash. The beans provided nitrogen fixing for all three crops. Butternut Squash: The most popular variety, the Waltham Butternut, originated in Waltham, Massachusetts, where it was developed at the Waltham Experiment Station by Robert E. Young.
800 Year Old Squash: http://www.cfweradio.ca/on-air/blogs/dustin-mcgladrey-351668/entry/471/
Sunflower: It was first domesticated in Mesoamerica, present day Mexico, by at least 2600 BC. It may have been domesticated a second time in the middle Mississippi Valley, or been introduced there from Mexico at an early date, as maize was. Many indigenous American peoples used the sunflower as the symbol of their solar deity, including the Aztecs and the Otomi of Mexico and the Incas in South America. Some researchers argue that the Spaniards tried to suppress cultivation of the sunflower because of its association with solar religion and warfare. The sunflower seed is the fruit of the sunflower, "seed" is actually a misnomer, when dehulled, the edible remainder is called the sunflower kernel.
Strawberry: The strawberry is a member of the rose family, with the most common varieties being a hybrid of the wild Virginia strawberry (native to North America) and a Chilean variety. Strawberries are social plants, requiring both a male and female to produce fruit. The word strawberry comes from the Old English streawberige, most likely because the plant sends out runners which could be likened to pieces of straw. Central and South American strawberries were called futilla by the conquistadors. Early Americans did not bother cultivating strawberries, because they were abundant in the wild.
Sweet Potato: Domestication of sweet potato is thought to be either in Central or South America at least 5,000 years ago, and brought to central Polynesia around 700 AD, possibly by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back, and spread across Polynesia to Hawaii and New Zealand from there.
Tomato: Originates in South America, belongs to the nightshade family, botanically a fruit, and considered a vegetable for culinary purposes (as well as by the United States Supreme Court, see Nix v. Hedden).
Vanilla: The second most expensive spice after saffron because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. The Totonac people, who inhabit the Mazatlan Valley on the Gulf Coast of Mexico in the present-day state of Veracruz, were the first to cultivate vanilla. According to Totonac stories, the tropical orchid was born when Princess Xanat, forbidden by her father from marrying a mortal, fled to the forest with her lover. The lovers were captured and beheaded. Where their blood touched the ground, the vine of the tropical orchid grew. In the fifteenth century, Aztecs invading from the central highlands of Mexico conquered the Totonacs and named the bean "tlilxochitl" or "black flower" after the mature bean, which shrivels and turns black shortly after it is picked. Subjugated by the Aztecs, the Totonacs paid tribute by sending vanilla beans to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. The flowers can be naturally pollinated only by a specific Melipone bee found in Mexico. This bee provided Mexico with a 300-year-long monopoly on vanilla production. The vines would grow, but would not fruit outside of Mexico. Growers tried to bring this bee into other growing locales, to no avail. The only way to produce fruits without the bees is artificial pollination. And today, even in Mexico, hand-pollination is used extensively.
Walnut (Black Walnut): While its primary native region is the Midwest and east-central United States, the black walnut was introduced into Europe in 1629. Black walnut is more resistant to frost than the English or Persian walnut. Nutritionally, it is similar to the milder-tasting English walnut, but the black walnut kernel is high in unsaturated fat and protein. The tree is prized for its wood, dye, and nut.
Wild Rice: This grain is harvested from a grass historically gathered and eaten in both North America and China. Wild rice is NOT directly related to Asian rice, although they are close cousins. Several Native American cultures, such as the Ojibwa, consider wild rice to be a sacred component in their culture. The rice is harvested with a canoe: one person vans (or "knocks") rice into the canoe with two small poles (called "knockers" or "flails") while the other paddles slowly or uses a push pole. For these groups, this harvest is an important cultural (and often economic) event. The Ojibwe named “manoomin” for the neighboring Omanoominii (Menominee, who refer to themselves Mamaceqtaw). Many places are named after this plant, including Mahnomen, Minnesota, Menomonie. The plants grow in shallow water in small lakes and slow-flowing streams; often, only the flowering head of wild rice rises above the water. Wild rice is high in protein, the amino acid lysine, dietary fiber, and low in fat.
Ancient Food Born Again