Foods You Didn’t Know Were Developed by Native Americans

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About three-fifths of the world’s crops started with the Native Americans. Without them and the Columbian Exchange, there would be no staples like squash, beans, or corn. Corn is the world’s most-developed crop; about 500 million acres are harvested yearly. Even though some Native American traditions and practices were lost due to colonization, these crops still changed the world and don’t show any sign of going away.

Three Sisters Method

The three sisters’ method was a combination of squash, corn, and beans (such as pinto, navy, kidney, and black) that Native Americans planted together. Because the stalks of the corn acted as a pole for the beans to grow on, the beans made the soil rich with nitrogen, and the squash provided shade for the beans and the squash so they could retain water.


Multiple types of squash (such as pumpkins, and other hard-skinned squash) were cherished by Native Americans for their seeds that were packed with protein and the flesh which was packed with nutrients. The skins were also dried to be used as water jugs and containers. Native Americans have strong beliefs against wasting food so when they had a crop or an animal every part that could be used was used.

Corn or Maize

Native Americans ate corn during almost every meal because it can be easily stored and preserved throughout the winter months. Corn could be used for corn syrup, cornbread, or corn pudding. It can also be ground into cornmeal and be used to thicken things such as beans. Going back to the beliefs against wasting food, the corn silks were made into medicinal tea and the husks were made into dolls, baskets, or sleeping mats. Even the cobs were used to make things such as darts or were burned as fuel. Although corn has evolved since then and did not look how it does today then, the kernels were smaller and not fused together.


Beans were a large part of Native American diets because they are rich in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. Beans alongside squash and corn made the perfect meal because the meal became rich in vitamins, protein, and fiber. Flowers from mesquite beans were used to make a tea that was said to have multiple uses such as laxatives and a headache reliever.

Even though Native American diets were deeply impacted by colonization, the crops that Native Americans developed have been made staples across many diets and cultures. We all have Native Americans to thank for these crops that are the base or main part of many of our favorite foods.