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Akutaq (Eskimo ice cream)


The native people of Alaska have a distinct version of ice cream. It's not creamy ice cream as we know it, but a concoction made from reindeer fat or tallow, seal oil, freshly fallen snow or water, fresh berries, and sometimes ground fish. Air is whipped in by hand so that it slowly cools into foam. They call this Arctic treat akutaq (ah-goo-duck), aqutuk, ackutuk, or Eskimo ice cream. Akutaq is a Yupik word that means mix them together.

This is a delicacy that Alaska Natives have thrived on for thousands of years. This recipe was made by Natives a long, long time ago for survival and was used as a special traveling food. When hunters went out to go hunting, they brought along akutaq.

Akutaq can also be made with moose meat and fat, caribou meat and fat, fish, seal oil, berries and other Alaskan things. Women traditionally made akutaq after the first catch of a polar bear or seal. The grandmother or mother of the hunter would prepare the akutaq and share it with the community members during special ceremonies.  Traditionally it was always made for funerals, potlatches, celebrations of a boy's first hunt, or almost any other celebration.  It is eaten as a dessert, a meal, a snack, or a spread.


1 cup reindeer, caribou, or moose fat (back fat)*
1 cup animal oil (seal, walrus, or whale), divided
1/2 cup water or 2 cups loose snow
4 1/2 cups fresh berries

Grate or grind fat into small pieces. In a large pot over low heat, add fat and stir until it becomes a liquid (the fat should never get hotter than it is comfortable to your hand). Add 1/3 cup seal oil, mixing until it is all liquid. Remove from heat and continue stirring the fat in big circles.

While continuing to stir at a steady rate, add 1/4 cup water or 1 cup snow and another 1/3 cup seal oil. As fat slowly cools and starts to get fluffy and white, add remaining 1/4 cup water or 1 cup snow and remaining 1/3 cup seal oil, continuing to stir.

When the Akutaq is as white and fluffy as you can make it, fold in berries. Form into desired shape. Cover and freeze to firm up.




* The type of fat used determines how the Akutaq will taste and feel, as each animal has a different type of fat. Well-aged yellow fat is usually preferred because it has more flavor and whips up fluffier than does fresh fat. The ice cream can also be sweetened with sweetener or with fruits. Meat and fish Akutaq are not usually sweetened.