Indigenous foods from South America

Amaranth flowers
Amaranth is indigenous to Mesoamerica, but it also grown in China, India, south-east Asia, west Africa and the Caribbean.

If you aren’t new to this website, you know that SweetGrass sources products from various Tribes and Tribal entities through the U.S. Our products must either be made by Native Americans or meet certain criteria to be sold in our online shop. You can learn more about our product classifications here.  

We choose our vendors carefully and make sure they all represent Native culture in a positive manner and offer products that will benefit the Native community. We recently started working with Nemi, a plant-based snack company owned by an individual with Aztec ancestry. At SweetGrass, we recognize the important of all indigenous cultures, whether they are indigenous to North America, Central America or South America.  

Nemi snacks are made with amaranth seeds and nopal (cactus), which are both drought-resistant and good for Mother Earth. Amaranth seeds and cactus are both indigenous foods. In fact, according to the American Indian Health and Diet Project, “The prickly pear cactus was and is a staple in the diets of many indigenous peoples of the southwestern United States and Mexico. While it is now grown throughout the dry regions of southern Europe, it is believed that all species of prickly pear cacti originated in North America where it became a valued source of food and medicine for centuries of people.” 

Additionally, amaranth is an indigenous food that has been around 8,000 years and survived colonization. Amaranth is indigenous to Mesoamerica, but it also grown in China, India, south-east Asia, west Africa and the Caribbean. Before the Spanish arrived in the Americas, the Aztec and Mayans grew amaranth for food and ceremonial purposes. However, when Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century they threatened to cut the hands off of anyone who continued to grow the plant. Farmers secretly continued to grow amaranth and it began to pop up in fields as far north as the modern-day United States.  

These foods are more than just foods- they represent resilience and determination. They are sacred not just to Mexican native cultures, but to North American native cultures as well. They symbolize the grit that our ancestors had to continue growing plant medicine at a time when it could put them in danger. 

 SweetGrass is proud to support an Aztec owned company like Nemi, that strives to make indigenous foods accessible and revitalizes indigenous food systems.  

“My intention is to elevate Mexican cultura, share the genius behind indigenous food like nopales and amaranth and provide access and opportunities to women of color,” Regina Trillo, founder and owner of Nemi, said. 

Learn more about the Nemi story on our blog.  

Sources:  

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/06/ancient-grain-amaranth-food-trend-indigenous

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