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 3 times a year.
The ancient Egyptians had a fairly healthy diet, consisting mostly of breads, fruits, vegetables and sometimes fish.
Meat, poultry and dairy products were available - but were a luxury of the rich.
The main crops that provided the staples of the ancient Egyptian diet were:
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 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. What a load!
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.
Wheat and barley were the main ingredients of ancient Egyptian bread. Sometimes other ingredients were used such as yeast, milk, salt, spices, fruits, vegetables, honey, eggs and butter.
The grain was first ground and then all the ingredients would be kneaded by hand (and sometimes by foot too). Overall it was a very long and tiring process.
As bread was the most widely eaten of all the ancient Egyptian food, the Egyptians developed a method to grind the grain much faster. The baker (usually the women of the household) would add sand or ground stone into the grinding pot along with the grain, which facilitated the grinding process and produced the flour in record time.
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. Sadly, they never made the connection and 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.
Fish was the most common type of flesh eaten in Egypt, since the Nile provided good fishing. The fish were dried and salted, fried or boiled.
Geese, ducks, pigeons and quail were also common. The poor could afford them more than cattle since they could catch them wild. Later on, they 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.
All in all, ancient Egyptian food is not too different from modern Egyptian cuisine. Bread is still a staple, although without the painful sand and ground stone thankfully! Meat has become more readily available, and the fish from the Nile is not as safe to eat as it used to be.
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