The Inuit relied on the caribou for food, shelter, clothing and tools.
image credit : Bob Stevens, US Fish and Wildlife Service; license - public domain
image credit - Bob Stevens, US Fish and Wildlife Service, license - public domain


The Inuit traditionally have relied on hunting and fishing to survive. For thousands of years they hunted the caribou, musk ox, Arctic hare, walrus, polar bear, seal, whale, ptarmigan, geese, ducks and other birds as well as bird eggs. Wild greens, roots, berries and seaweed were collected and preserved. The traditional food obtained from the land and the sea is called "country food" .

Today the Inuit still hunt and fish. Gardens or crops can't be grown in the Arctic. Fresh fruits and vegetables must be flown in.

a store which sells groceries and other supplies
store in Grise Ford, Nunavut, image credit Nancy Shaver
image credit - Nancy Shaver; used with permission

Modern food or southern food is shipped from southern Canada and sold at local stores. This food is becoming popular among the young people. The traditional food obtained by hunting and fishing is healthier and less costly than the store-bought food.


Depending on the size of the community, some places have two stores - a Northern store and a Co-op. Both stores sell fresh, frozen and canned foods, processed foods and dried goods, along with hardware and household supplies. Flights twice a week bring fresh fruits and vegetables, bread and perishables like milk.
food in Arctic Bay, June 2009
cheese in Arctic Bay
food in Clyde River, June 2009
chips in Clyde River

food in Clyde River, June 2009
cookies in Clyde River

food in Clyde River, June 2009
dairy, juice in Clyde River

food in Clyde River, June 2009
juice in Clyde River

food in Iqaluit, June 2009
milk in Iqaluit, May-June 2009
photos of food prices - image credits - Mark Coatsworth;; Creative Commons license

Besides shopping at the store, people can get their food and supplies by sealift (ships) and food mail (planes). Sealift orders arrive once a year in the summer or fall when the sea ice has melted. People can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by ordering their groceries. Food mail orders can be placed every week for fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, etc. This is also cheaper than shopping at the local store.


Traditionally, the Inuit did not eat many fruits or vegetables. They ate mostly meat, obtained from the land and the sea. Here are some of the traditional foods that are eaten today. The meat is eaten raw, frozen, cooked, dried or aged.
  • Caribou meat is similar to deer meat. The meat, liver and stomach contents are eaten.
caribou is eaten raw, frozen, cooked, dried or aged
caribou meat,, creative commons license
image credit Amanda ,, license - Creative Commons
  • Arctic hare and ground squirrel is usually baked, boiled, cooked in a stew.
  • Geese and ducks are eatern raw, boiled, roasted, dried. The meat, liver, gizzard and heart are eaten. Bird eggs are collected in spring and early summer.
  • Musk ox is similar to beef.
  • Whale - maktaaq or muktuk the outer layer of skin and blubber is eaten raw. Whale meat is also dried, aged, cooked or boiled in stew or soup.
maktaaq cut with an ulu
maktaaq cut with an ulu; Agent Magenta at, Creative Commons license
image from, license - Creative Commons
  • Polar bear meat is usually baked or boiled in soup or stew, never eaten raw
  • Seal meat is eaten raw, frozen, boiled, dried or aged. The fat is used as a dip with seaweed, fish or dried meats. The fat is also mixed with berries and eaten like ice cream. Flippers are aged in blubber. Almost all parts are eaten including liver, blubber and brain.
  • Arctic char and other fish are eaten raw, frozen, dried, aged or baked. Stew or soup is made with fish. The meat, skin, head, bones and eggs are eaten. Arctic char is one of the favourite foods of the Inuit. Other fish are Atlantic salmon, Pacific salmon and Arctic cod.
Arctic char is similar to salmon and trout
Arctic Char, Jim Gaither, US Fish and Wildlife Service, license public domain
image credit - Jim Gaither; US Fish and Wildlife Service; license - public domain
  • Ptarmigan is a chicken-like bird eaten baked, fried or boiled.
  • Walrus meat, flippers, skin and blubber are eaten raw, aged, dried and boiled (stew)

walrus meat hung to dry
walrus meat drying, Elizabeth Manfred, June 2005, permission granted
image credit ŠElizabeth Manfred, permission granted, Gambell photo library
  • Wild plant greens such as willows, mountain sorrel and fireweed are picked. The leaves are eaten raw, in a salad, cooked as a vegetable or added to soups and stews.
  • Labrador Tea plant leaves are brewed for tea. The plant has a nice smell and a spicy taste. It is also used as a medicine.
  • Berries (crowberries, blueberries, cloudberries, cranberries, gooseberries, Baffin berries) are eaten fresh, dried, frozen for later use, eaten with seal blubber or oil, or cooked to make jam.
wild berries are picked in the summer
a variety of wild berries, Alaska, US Fish and Wildlife Service
imge credit US Fish and Wildlife Service , license - public domain

  • Seaweed is eaten raw or boiled (cooked) as a vegetable or dried to eat later.
  • Seafood such as scallops, sea cucumber, shrimp, mussels, clams, crabs are eaten raw, boiled for soup or fried.
  • Bannock (traditional bread made of flour and lard) is boiled in a pot of oil, fried in a pan or baked in the oven. It is eaten with margarine or butter and sometimes dotted with dried fruit.

woman baking bannock over a campfire
photo of woman baking bannock by Ansgar Walk,, Creative Commons license
image credit - Ansgar Walk ;; Creative Commons License


Canadian Studies - index
Web Pages for Students

information from :
Traditional Foods of the Inuit
Inuit : Traditional Food Fact Sheet
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Far North Food
People of the Arctic, by John Tyman cooking and eating | changing diets
buying food today -

September 2009
updated August 2011

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