Ancient Egyptian Food
Ancient Egyptian food was mainly provided by the farmers of Egypt. The rich, fertile soil that came with the annual flooding of the Nile was very suitable for agriculture. Farmers harvested the land sometimes up to three times a year.
The ancient Egyptians had a fairly simple diet, consisting mostly of bread and beer, fruits, vegetables and sometimes fish. Meat, poultry and dairy products were available – but were a luxury and mostly a privilege of the rich.
Malnutrition was common, though, and even the baking of bread was such an arduous task that it caused health problems such as injury and disability.
The main crops that provided the staples of the ancient Egyptian diet were:
- Barley (used for making bread and beer)
- Onion (especially green onions)
Fruits were also a favorite ancient Egyptian food, especially dates. Dates were not only eaten, but they were also used as a sweetener. Figs were popular too.
Other fruits such as grapes, plums and pomegranates were used for making wines. Wine was a privilege of the rich however, since it was too expensive for the average Egyptian. Beer on the other hand was a national drink, available to everyone, and usually consumed every day.
The ancient Egyptians used a variety of fats and oils to cook with, derived from animals or pressed from seeds and vegetables.
They were also fans of drying and salting foods. Fruits were dried, such as grapes into raisins. Fish and meats were often dried and salted, which made them last longer. Soldiers were provided with dried and salted food on their long missions.
The main herbs and spices used to flavor ancient Egyptian food were:
The Ancient Egyptian Kitchen
The Egyptian women (or cooks) had to make meals from scratch since it was difficult to store food in such hot weather. The kitchen was a very important place in the home indeed. Usually, the kitchen was at the back or on the roof, and was either completely or partially in open-air.
Clay pots and wooden utensils were used to cook with. Bread was not only baked every day in the home, but the housewives had to grind the grain from scratch as well.
Many ancient Egyptian homes had a vegetable garden attached where the family would grow their own vegetables, and also little silos where they would keep the emmer, or other grains, for the bread.
In fact, one of the reasons ancient Egyptians loved having cats as pets was because they chased away the vermin from their graineries.
Food and drink was stored in clay jars, and some houses had an underground storage area where it was a little cooler. But food was usually cooked and eaten fresh every day.
Baking the Egyptian Bread
Wheat (emmer), a type of millet and barley were the main raw materials of ancient Egyptian bread. Sometimes other ingredients were used such as yeast, milk, salt, spices, fruits, vegetables, honey, eggs and butter.
After harvest, the wheat would go through threshing and winnowing in order to separate the grain from the chaff, and to make sure there are no pests before storing the grain in silos.
And when it was time to make the daily bread, the portions would be taken out of storage to begin the long and tiring process.
Like with textiles, men would usually do the first part of the process and then the women would do all the rest.
The first part was to take the portions needed, moisten with water, then pound it in large mortars. This would produce a finer grain, more separated from the chaff.
Then it would be time for grinding, which was done by women and took hours every day. The mills were usually placed on the floor and the women would kneel over them. Later, during the New Kingdom, the mills were placed on elevated surfaces, which was a bit easier to work with.
As bread was the most widely eaten of all the ancient Egyptian food, the Egyptians developed a method to grind the grain much faster. They would add sand or ground stone into the grinding mill along with the grain, which facilitated the grinding process and produced the flour faster.
This, unfortunately, caused a lot of wear on the teeth. Most mummies were found with teeth worn down to the pulp. This was probably the most common health problem in ancient Egypt, and ancient Egyptians had to endure great pain from a very young age.
In the earlier days, bread was baked in open fires. Later on ovens were made with the fire contained at the bottom and an opening at the top for the dough.
Many different kinds of breads, using different ingredients and molded into different shapes were available to all Egyptians.
Honey cakes and fruit loafs were used in banquettes as well.
Meat and Dairy in Ancient Egyptian Food
Fish was the most common type of flesh eaten in Egypt, since the Nile provided good fishing. The fish was dried and salted, fried or boiled.
Geese, ducks, pigeons and quail were also quite common. The poor could afford to eat them more than cattle since they could catch them in the wild. Later on, the Egyptians domesticated fowl and raised them for food.
Cattle meat such as beef, pork, sheep and goat were less common. The rich could afford to eat them more often, but the poor were able to have them on special occasions. Meat from wild game such as dear also existed in those days.
The information we have on dairy products is not as solid as the information we have on the rest of the ancient Egyptian diet, but we can safely say that the Egyptians were familiar with dairy. Milks and creams were sometimes used in cooking.
I hope you enjoyed this page on Ancient Egyptian Food. If you did, please share it with anyone else you think might like it. And if you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll be updated whenever I upload a new page or video.
Thanks and take care!