The upcoming Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day on May 19th, asks us to become aware of where our food comes from. While this call-to-action might be focusing on the ingredients in our family meals and children’s school lunches, we should also consider how many of those ingredients have come from Native America. Food awareness goes further than the ingredient list on the box; it’s really about understanding the history and origins of the foods we consume. You may be surprised how many vegetables, fruits, grains, seasonings, food thickeners and additives were a gift from the Americas – in fact, it has been estimated that over 60% of the foods we consume trace their origins to the New World. To understand the impact of Native American foods, we should first look at some ethnic cuisines outside of the Americas.
Jumping right into our world food tour, let’s start with the cuisine of northern Europe. You may be surprised to know that the Irish potato is actually South American in origin. All potatoes came from the New World, all varieties having roots to the Americas, and most cultivated potatoes came from the fields of Native farmers. Potatoes brought northern Europe a crop that could be grown in cooler and damper climates, and a source of vitamin C that boosted their health, but it didn’t stop there as potatoes even improved European dental health. Grains encouraged dental carries, but for reasons very obscure, the potato did not produce such high dental carries as grains. The Irish and English adoption of the starchy root was so intense, that it is hard to find national dishes that lack the potato. Where would Shepard’s pie be without the filling layer of mashed potatoes, and fish ‘n’ chips without the chips. Potatoes began to trump previous European root vegetables, like turnips, and took its place of importance right next to the cabbage.
To the south, another New World import began to take hold. Where would Italian cuisine be without the tomato? Yes, tomatoes were indeed a New World introduction, but as versatile as this fruit was, it didn’t take hold right away. It was Genesis that made many Westerners scared to try the tomato, as many thought it might have been the long lost fruit Eve had infamously offered Adam. It would however be poor soil conditions that would convince Italian farmers to cultivate the crop. The tomato grew successfully in soil conditions other crops did not tolerate, and from that point on, Italians had a love affair with the tomato. They pushed aside their traditional cheese and cream sauces, oil-herb dressings, and meat gravies to make room for a whole new condiment for pasta known as marinara. The red sauce’s popularity took off, and it’s hard to find any person who could define Italian cuisine without marinara.
Marinara also became the perfect carrier of New World pepper spices, which only enhanced the red sauce, a job milk-based sauces fell short on. Their neighbors in France did not make much room around their beloved butter and cream-based condiments which, milk coating the taste buds, inherently killed the bold and intense flavor of New World peppers. Italians adopted more than just peppers and tomatoes, as they also fell in love with zucchini – a New World squash, and American green beans and kidney beans. Kidney beans now serve as an integral ingredient of traditional minestrone, considered by many to be the unofficial national soup of Italy.
Peppers, whether it be chili, banana, bell, or others of the Capsicum genus, were adopted around the world for there bold, sweet, and sometimes spicy flavor. Probably not often thought to be a place of pepper culture, the Hungarian and Yugoslavian peoples adopted sweet peppers as spice for stews. Goulash would not be what it is today without paprika – finely ground American sweet red peppers. Paprika not only flavored and colored the stew, but also thickened it. It can be considered the heart of the soup. New World potatoes also found their way into many goulash recipes.
However, peppers may have had a larger impact in Indian and eastern Asian cuisine. Indian curry owes its red spice to New World peppers. Cayenne and hot peppers served as the base of curry, replacing Old World black peppers previously used in curry. Chilies were adopted into local Szechuan and Hunanese sauces, while the Chinese in general mixed chilies with oil that created a condiment that would preserve for use at any time of the year. One of the most popular hot sauces in the culinary world today is sriracha – a chili sauce manufactured especially to compliment Asian cuisine. Similar sauces were created with American originated peppers in Thailand, including nam som – a chili and vinegar condiment used to flavor almost any dish. Bali cuisine also boosts a chili sauce, mixed with ground shrimp and limejuice. Balinese dishes also included American peanuts, passion fruit, and avocados, although, peanuts may be more well known to Westerners in Chinese dishes.
-Continued in “Food Revolution Day: A Day to Consider the Culinary Contribution of Native Americans (Part II)” – http://voices.yahoo.com/food-revolution-day-day-consider-culinary-11284244.html?cat=5
The writer will be participating in a New Jersey Food Revolution Day event, with the goal of spreading awareness of Native American food contributions. More info on our participation can be seen on our Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Woodland-Indian-Educational-Programs/118533751586819 and more information on Woodland Indian Educational Programs can be found at www.WoodlandIndianEDU.com