Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


Shepherdia canadensis

By Jeremy Trombley

Also known as the Russet Buffalo berry, and the soopolallie, this berry is the main ingredient in one of the most unique native North American desserts – Indian β€œice cream.”


Soapberries grow on large shrubs that grow up to four meters tall. The leaves are ovular, and along with the buds and young twigs are covered by a thin fuzz. Its flowers are small and rather dull, but the berries are bright red or orange. The plant can be found along the western coast of North America, particularly toward the north.


As mentioned above, the primary use for soapberries is to make indian ice cream. This is a unique confection found throughout the northern coast of North America. Those groups who did not have direct access to the berries often traded for them with neighboring tribes. The berries are harvested in mid-summer by holding a branch over a mat and whacking it with a stick. They are then kept in baskets away from any fats or oils or else they won't whip properly. When it is time to prepare the indian ice cream, the berries are placed in a container with water. They are then whipped until they gain a light, foamy texture similar to beaten egg whites with a pinkish color. Sweet berries or other confections are then added to mask the sour taste of the soapberries. The consumption of indian ice cream was a big event in traditional communities. It was eaten after a feast with special spoons and bowls. The atmosphere took on the air of a party when the ice cream was served. Children and adults alike would play with the foam and even throw it at one another. Indian ice cream is an acquired taste. The sour flavor of the soapberries tends to put people off, as does its airy quality, which can upset some stomachs. Over time, however, many people learn to enjoy the unique dessert.


Juneau Empire – Native Women Whip up Soapberries, Fond Memories

Kuhnlein, Harrie. Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany and Use. 1st ed. Taylor & Francis, 1991.

Turner, Nancy J. Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples. University of British Columbia Press, 2007.