It's hard to state one exact origin of the cuisine of any country because everyone has had different influences and origins. There are many origins of traditional food in America and today you will learn about the history of our favorite dishes like pumpkin pie and hot dogs.
This article is for all the cooks in the world, for anyone who wants to learn about the origins of American cuisine, for people interested in knowing more about traditions and food, and more.
If you ever wondered what exactly is traditional American food, continue reading because we will explain everything about American cuisine. Starting from the Native Americans, the colonization and the changes of diet during that period, the end of the colonial era, and the modern popular dishes brought to us by immigrants.
American cuisine has a fascinating history and learning about it will not only be instructive but also fun! Go check our guide to cooking in the United States to learn more about the subject.
Native American origins
It's hard to point at a region or area in the United States that doesn't have some sort of Native American influence.
The Native Americans were nomads living off the land across the country before the 17th century. Since they were moving around so much their diet was ever-changing. However, many of our favorite recipes originated in this period of time.
The base of Native American food was corn, beans, and squash. As for meat, the Native American diet was based on deer, elk, bison, rabbits, and hare of every kind.
The Cherokee of the Southern Appalachians used blowguns made of an indigenous type of bamboo to hunt squirrels.
The geographical location played an important role in their diets because they would live off the land they were in. For example, tribes located in the Southern region of the country didn't have much access to bodies of water, therefore, fish and crustaceans weren't part of their dishes and diets.
Finally, we must consider their cooking style because it has also influenced the way we cook our foods. Americans like fried foods, and it all comes from the way the Native Americans used to prepare their meals.
Native Americans lacked pottery and they used to heat rocks and then prepare the food on the heated rocks. They also liked to grill meat and vegetables. In some regions, they created adobe ovens to bake bread and other meals.
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When the English came to North America, they started to plant crops and grow the food they would normally eat in England. However, they couldn't replicate the dishes exactly as they would have them in England because they were unable to find some things.
The colonialists replicated as much of the English diet and recipes as they could but also introduced local animals and vegetables from different regions in America. This is when a fusion of American and English cuisine first happened.
For example, wheat was an important grain for the English diet because they used it to bake bread back in England. But wheat was almost impossible to grow in America and the idea of importing it wasn't yet a productive form of commerce. The English then replaced wheat with corn and cornmeal.
There was also some French cuisine influence and other factors that contributed to the food traditions in different areas. Seasons and weather are always a big factor and they definitely influenced the dishes, ingredients, and culinary world during the colonial time in the Americas.
During the early period of colonization, alcohol proved to be a hard drink to get a hold of because they didn't have the ingredients for making it. The alcohol that became proliferated in the center regions of the country was whiskey because they had access to corn and rye.
History shows us that the culinary world in the northern colonies had less agricultural diversity compared to the southern colonies. This would also create an impact on the future of American cuisine and shape our traditions as we know them today.
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The decades after independence marked key milestones in American cuisine. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Americans developed many new foods. Some traditional meals and dishes became popular throughout the country but had little international appeal. For example, peanut butter (a core ingredient of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich) and deep-fried foods.
However, other dishes are beloved by people across the world, such as popcorn, hamburgers, pancakes, hot dogs, cola, fried chicken, cornbread, muffins, pie, and brownies.
During the 19th century, the American farmhouse became a staple throughout the country. Families would own land and produce their own food and local stores would sell general things like salt, coffee, sugar, or baking soda.
Apples became popular across the country and that's how apple cider, vinegar, and pie were born. Typical farmhouse fare included corn, stewed tomatoes, fried chicken, boiled beans and beets, chicken and dumplings, simmered green beans, fried ham, potatoes, and coleslaw made of shredded cabbage.
During the 20th century, pork became a staple of the rural diet through the Southern and Midwestern United States.
During this period many of the regional foods started to spread across the country thanks to the industrial revolution. It is now possible to transport the food across the land and the cost of production was worth it. Therefore, many regional staples became the country's favorites.
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Immigrants and their influence
International cuisine was introduced in the United States after World War I (1920's) with Mexican and Italian food. As the world started to become globalized, so did the food. American food started to get influenced by Chinese, African, Greek, Jewish, Russian, and other cuisines.
As the United States became a world power, people from around the world strived to come to America and fulfill their "American dream". When people started to come the fastest way to start making a living was by establishing a restaurant of their traditional food. This is why New York has such a massive variety of restaurants and food, many immigrants who traveled there started their own restaurants.
New York has become a hub for international food. You can find African, Latin American, Arab, Asian; and all kinds of variety like vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and more.
To this day immigration to the United States continues and with it, more international food is introduced to the country. Now you can find fusion cuisine from different places. Like Mexican-Korean, French- Italian, or Chinese-African fusion.
The food market continues to evolve and grow and America is lucky to have it happen in its own land! Read about US regions and their dishes.