What Is Piki?

Sara Schmidt

Piki bread, is also known as Indian paper bread. It is a traditional Hopi bread that is considered cumbersome to make, partly due to the difficulty of acquiring the necessary ingredients. Piki ingredients include juniper ash, blue cornmeal, and sunflower oil. Though the blue-gray bread is also made by the Pueblo peoples of New Mexico, the bread is not widely found outside the Arizona area.


The most difficult ingredient to acquire for this Hopi version of a tortilla is the juniper ash. It is the ash left behind from a burning juniper tree, so the most direct way to get the ingredient is to burn the tree oneself and obtain the ash. Less traditional recipes, such as those that call for the ash of various other plants, are available for those who really want to make the bread. A Mexican tortilla flour known as masa harina is also used in some recipes as a substitution. The best place to obtain it, however, is in an authentic Hopi restaurant.

Cornflower meal and sunflower oil can both be purchased in some specialty food shops as well as online. To create the bread, the ash must first be boiled in water, then strained. It is then mixed with the blue cornmeal and cooled before being formed into bread. The layer of meal should be spread thinly over a baking instrument, such as a griddle. The traditional method is stretching the blue dough over a hot rock, such as a slab of shale.

When the dough is too thick, it will not cook properly. Once it is very thin, it is cooked for a brief amount of time before being rolled up into a long, tamale-like shape and served. Though many people may use oil to cook the bread, another traditional way to make the piki is to coat the cooking instrument in the fat of the animal being served with the meal. Watermelon seeds have also been used for creating the oil.

If using fresh blue corn in the recipe, it will require grinding prior to cooking. The resulting bread is less of a bread as it is a brittle, corn-flavored treat. It is well known in the Western states for its melt-in-your-mouth quality. It is also a very family-oriented food, heavy with tradition. Hopi women once passed their piki-making knowledge down to their daughters, along with their cooking stones.

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