Native American foods are not only present on our Thanksgiving table, but some ingredients are also staples in our everyday lives and they continue to influence our newest packaged products like fortified waters, baked goods, and beverages. Today, 60% of the food consumed worldwide originated from the New World.
Food on the table.
When the Europeans arrived in North America, Native Americans had already developed new varieties of corn, beans, and squashes and had an abundant supply of nutritious food. Much of the foods that we find on the Thanksgiving table today is a mix between Northern and Southern American crops thanks to the well-organized trade routes between the tribes.
But what are Native crops?
Some of the most commonly known species from North America include cranberries, blueberries, black raspberry, squash varieties, pumpkin, maple syrup, corn and turkey but other American native crops are increasingly found in innovative products.
- Emory Oak Acorn is nutrient-dense: high in vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, and rich in protein. They were consumed raw or stewed but have now adapted to some of our modern rituals. Some creative ways that acorn can now be found include acorn coffee mix and salad oils.
- American Native Pecans were a staple in the American Indians’ diet and were often consumed in a beverage or with vegetable dishes. Pecans are highly nutritious, they contain 18% protein and 19 vitamins and minerals. Although pecan milk is not yet commercialized, innovations with other native flavors such as maple syrup and cranberries have been fuelling the nut mix section. Pecan meal can also be found in paleo and grain-free bread, bars, and plant-based meals to reveal its nutty notes and boost their nutritive profiles.
- King Phillip Corn, originally dark yellow to a copper-red, has been selected to become the bright yellow color and sweet flavor that we might be found on our Thanksgiving dinner table in a moist and warm muffin. However, the original crop is close to extinction, we can still find other varieties of darker corn that have been popular to boost fiber content and provide a unique color to corn-based products.
- Sunflower seeds are native to North America and have been grown by indigenous tribes for over 4,500 years. They consumed the seeds raw, roasted, or to extract its oil. The seeds bared in the flower heads are high in vitamin E and selenium which act as antioxidants. The use of sunflower seeds in packaged foods has exploded in recent years as it provided an allergen-free substitute for peanuts but is also found in plant-based meats.
- Staghorn Sumac, not to confuse with the Turkish sumac that is found in supermarkets, the red fruit that we can find on the North-Eastern coast, has a sour and tangy flavor. It was used by indigenous people for its medicinal uses and they would also use it to create flavorful vitamin C-rich beverages rich in antioxidants. Although it is very appealing for its taste and appeal, it is mostly found in homemade recipes and has recently flavored some regional American gins.
- Wild American Elderberry, rich in antioxidants, can be toxic if consumed unripe but either the flowers or the dark purple fruit can be used to create very innovative products. The increased demand for immune-boosting products has accelerated the development of drinks, shots, tonics, and gummies with this native crop. But it has been found in many other products such as wine, barbeque sauces, and salad dressing.
Curious to know more about native crops?
You can find more information about native crops around the world from the fantastic ‘Ark of Taste’ from the Slow Food foundation website.
- Sunmin Park, Nobuko Hongu, James W. Daily, Native American foods: History, culture, and influence on modern diets, Journal of Ethnic Foods, Volume 3, Issue 3, 2016, Pages 171-177.