5 Uses of Cornmeal Throughout Indigenous History
August 30, 2023
Corn Meal: The Indigenous Food Staple
When it comes to food, nothing speaks more to the identity of the Americas thancorn. Indigenous to the land, corn has been a plentiful source of sustenance since the beginning. But did you know that it has been used for more than just food?
Corn has been utilized, in its entirety, by Indigenous people for thousands of years. Let’s look back in time to discover some of the many uses of this beloved crop — from corn to cornmeal.
The Creation of Cornmeal
Originating in Mexico, corn eventually made its way to North America where it quickly became a sacred source of both nourishment and versatility as one of the Native Americans’ Indigenous food staples.
Over time, Indigenous people began to experiment with corn crops, laying a large portion of their corn supply across their rooftops to be dried out by the sun. The corn was dried to remove moisture, and it was discovered that it was more difficult for the corn to spoil after it was dried.
Once dried, they would remove the kernels from the corn cobs. Mortars and pestles were fashioned from nearby wood and rock. Next, the dried corn kernels were placed in these mortars and pestles and ground into a powder, called cornmeal with a consistency ranging from fine to coarse.
Cornmeal has come a long way since these traditional practices. Thankfully, we no longer have to make cornmeal by hand via mortar and pestle. In fact, it’s now easily accessible through our Indigenous Marketplace which offers a variety of colors to meet all of your cornmeal needs, including:
- Navajo Roasted Blue Cornmeal – Because of its robust, sweet and nutty flavor, this blue cornmeal can be used to elevate any recipe that calls for white or yellow cornmeal. Not only that, blue cornmeal is good for you. Loaded with antioxidants, fiber, and protein, blue cornmeal is a significantly healthier alternative to the cornmeal typically found in chain grocery stores.
Our Navajo Roasted Blue Corn Meal is grown, harvested, and milled by Navajo Pride Foods. When you add Indigenously sourced food and ingredients to your pantry, you are contributing to the remembrance of the rich heritage of American Natives.
- Ute Mountain Blue Cornmeal – Grown, harvested and milled at the base of the Sleeping Ute Mountain in Colorado, this Ute Mountain Blue Cornmeal is rich in both its blue hue and earthy flavor. This blue cornmeal is full of antioxidants and contains anti-inflammatory properties to boost your immune system.
The vast versatility of this Indigenous food staple makes it a showstopper in the kitchen, enhancing everything such as soups, sauces, casseroles, breads, tortillas, muffins, pancakes and more.
- Ute Mountain Yellow Cornmeal – Ute Mountain Farm & Ranch is located along the Utah/Colorado border at the base of Ute Mountain. The farm has their own mill that is solely used for corn, never wheat, which makes Ute Mountain Yellow Cornmeal non-GMO, gluten free, and kosher. In growing, harvesting, and milling their own crops, Ute Mountain consistently produces pure, quality products.
Made from ground yellow corn, Ute Mountain Yellow Cornmeal has a subtle sweetness and classic corn flavor that is perfect for making pancakes and waffles, breads, adding a crust to meat and vegetables, and much more.
- Ute Mountain White Cornmeal – Ute Mountain Farm & Ranch is located along the Utah/Colorado border at the base of Ute Mountain. The farm has their own mill that is solely used for corn, never wheat, which makes Ute Mountain White Cornmeal non-GMO, gluten free, and kosher. In growing, harvesting, and milling their own crops, Ute Mountain consistently produces pure, quality products.
Made from ground white corn, Ute Mountain White Cornmeal has a subtle sweet corn flavor that is perfect for making pancakes and waffles, breads, adding a crust to meat and vegetables, and much more.
- Heirloom Red Cornmeal – With 20% more protein than its yellow or white counterparts, substituting red cornmeal for recipes that call for yellow or white will elevate the nutritional value and add a punch of robust corn flavor and distinctive color to your dish.
This cornmeal can be used to add a crust to meats, thicken a stew, make bread and muffins, and much more. 100% of Ramona Farms red corn flecked cornmeal is harvested from red corn grown alongside the Gila River.
After reading this article, be sure to check out our other article as well “Role of Blue Corn in Native American History”.
Now let’s take a closer look at how Indigenous people used cornmeal, in five traditional ways.
Cornmeal in Cooking/Baking
Perhaps the most obvious use of cornmeal is for cooking and baking. Since corn was Indigenous and plentiful, they regularly experimented with different cooking methods using corn and their hand-ground cornmeal.
Among the first cooking experiments tried was pone. This was a name for coarsely-ground cornmeal that was mixed with water (and sometimes salt) and was either baked or fried. Pone was generally eaten with breakfast.
Another breakfast item frequently eaten by Native peoples was blue corn pancakes. These Native American pancakes loved by the Hopi, Navajo and Pueblo are made from blue cornmeal. For a modern take on this Indigenous favorite, try our Corn Pancakes Topped with Maple Syrup and Fresh Berry Compote.
One of the most loved Native American foods derived from blue cornmeal is blue corn mush. If you love to eat grits, then you’ll love this as well. This traditional dish is still made from blue cornmeal, some type of culinary ash (like juniper or cedar ash), and a combination of delicious spices. This was (and still is) a nutrient-dense breakfast option. Give our Blue Corn Mush Recipe a try and it’ll be the star of your breakfast menu.
Becoming even more resourceful at using cornmeal, atole was created - An Indigenous breakfast drink. This drink is made from combining roasted cornmeal with water (or milk, used more recently) and whichever spices are preferred (such as cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, or vanilla extract).
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Experience the flavors and traditions with our authentic Native American cornmeal products. Shop now at Tocabe Indigenous Marketplace!
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Our philosophy is Native first, local second. We source the right products from the right people. To us, ingredients don’t just make the food, they tell the story behind it.
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