foods and cuisines

Frybread | It is a taste of Native American culture that you’ll never forget

Frybread (also spelled fry bread) is a dish of the indigenous people of North America that is a flat dough bread, fried or deep-fried in oil, shortening, or lard.

Made with simple ingredients, generally wheat flour, water, salt, and sometimes baking powder, frybread can be eaten alone or with various toppings such as honey, jam, powdered sugar, venison, or beef. It is the base for Indian tacos.

Frybread has a complex cultural history that is inextricably intertwined with colonialism and displacement of Native Americans. The ingredients for frybread were provided to Native Americans to prevent them from starving when they were moved from areas where they could grow and forage their traditional foods to areas that would not support their traditional foodways; the dish is often seen as both a symbol of colonization and a symbol of resilience.

Type Flatbread
Place of origin North America
Created by Native Americans
Main ingredients Dough, leavening agent, fat (oil, shortening, or lard)

Culture and symbolism of Frybread

Frybread became inextricably intertwined with Native American culture and feelings toward colonialization and displacement, and also with pride in the resilience of a people and culture. According to Smithsonian Magazine, for many Native Americans, “frybread links generation with generation and also connects the present to the painful narrative of Native American history”

Frybread’s significance to Native Americans has been described as complicated[1] and their relationship with it conflicted. Although frybread is often associated with “traditional” Native American cuisine, some Native American chefs reject it as a symbol of colonialism. Indigenous chef Sean Sherman calls it “everything that isn’t Native American food” writing that it represents “perseverance and pain, ingenuity and resilience”.  Frybread became a symbol of resilience as it was developed out of necessity using government-provided flour, sugar, and lard. However, indigenous chefs such as Sherman consider it a symbol of colonial oppression, as the ingredients were being provided because the government had moved the people onto land that could not support growing traditional staples like corn and beans.

The journalist and documentary filmmaker Patty Talahongva, who identifies as Hopi of the Corn Clan, calls frybread “Die Bread” and associates it with diseases endemic to Native Americans, including gallbladder disease, diabetes, and more. She attributes the spread of frybread to boarding schools, like the Phoenix Indian School, which she attended in the late 1970s. She also describes the movement toward indigenous food sovereignty, which promotes healthy foods like corn, beans, and squash, instead of starchy, high-fat foods like frybread.

Preparation and serving of Frybread

Frybread being cooked in a cast iron skillet during a funeral potlatch in Tanana, Alaska.

A typical frybread recipe consists of flour, water, salt, a small amount of oil or lard, and sometimes baking powder or more rarely yeast. The ingredients are mixed and worked into a simple dough, and covered with a cloth for 30 minutes to an hour, until the dough rises. It is then formed into small balls, and are either rolled or pulled into flat discs prior to frying in hot oil.
A frybread taco, Indian taco, or Navajo taco, is a frybread topped with various items, normally venison or beef, as well as other toppings commonly found in tacos.

It is served both in homes and at gatherings such a pow-wows and potlatches as well as at state fairs and other festivals. The way it is served varies from region to region and different tribes have different recipes. It can be found in its many ways at state fairs and pow-wows, but what is served to the paying public may be different from what is served in private homes and in the context of tribal family relations.

They may be eaten plain, salted, or with sugar or honey. Frybread is used as a base for Navajo tacos.

Why is it called fry bread?

To prevent the displaced Native Americans from starving, the United States government provided a small set of staple food items, which included the ingredients with which to create a simple quick bread which was cooked in a pan of hot lard over coals and became known as frybread.

Is fry bread healthy?

Health Problems

Fry bread can be eaten alone or as part of a meal, or can be dessert topped with butter, cinnamon and sugar or perhaps honey. Fry bread is tempting to most people because of the grease/lard/shortening ingredient and therein lies the problem. Not only is fry bread high in fat, it is also caloric.

What is fry bread used for?

It can be eaten alone or with powdered sugar, honey or other toppings. Frybread is also used in Indian tacos with beef, and depending on the cook, a mixture of cheese, lettuce, and beans might be placed on top of the flat fried bread.

What oil is best for frying bread?

Peanut Oil, Vegetable Oil or Canola Oil would be great for frying. It is best to use a neutral oil so the flavor of the bread is not altered. You also need to use an hot oil with a high smoke point for frying. For example, don’t use olive oil.

Is it better to fry bread in oil or butter?

“Unlike the dry toast you can make in a toaster (or under the broiler in your oven), slices fried in oil are rich and luxurious; that bit of extra fat goes a long way in the flavor department.” Vaculin prefers oil over butter for her fried bread

Frybread Nutrition

A 100-gram serving of a typical frybread contains 330 calories, 12.2 g of fat, 48.3 g of carbohydrate, and 6.7 g of protein.