Ancient Egyptian Food and Drink

The main crop for food and drink in ancient Egypt was grain. Wheat was used in ancient Egypt to make bread, the most important staple of Egyptian food, even today. Barley was used for making beer, the favorite drink of ancient Egyptians.

Grain was also used universally as a form of currency in the ancient Egyptian barter economy. All farmers would be required to hand over to the pharaoh a share of the grain crop as tax. The percentage owed was meticulously calculated by the scribes after the season of Akhet (inundation) and collected by the officials during the harvest (shemu). The grain collected was stored in beehive shaped mud brick silos inside the temple compounds. This system served as a social security policy to assure enough food for the entire population in case the crops would not yield enough food supplies, as it indeed happened after continuous periods of low inundation. In such a case the pharaoh would order the distribution of grain that otherwise would have gone bad if left in the possession of their growers.

Wheat was ground into a dough, a labor done mostly by the women of the house and shaped into various shapes, pancakes, long or round rolls and thick loaves. Stone grinding of the wheat would inevitably grit in the flour which quickly wore the teeth. This dental problem affected all social classes all the way to the pharaoh himself. Amentohep III and Ramses II are known to have suffered excruciating tooth pain.

ancient egyptian food and drink

To flavor the bread, ancient Egyptians used butter, eggs, coriander seeds and other herbs. The wealthier classes would elaborate pastries sweetened with honey and fruits, mostly dates. The poorer classes could not afford honey, but used dates and figs as sweeteners.

Baking was done by placing the kneaded dough in a baking mold and cooked over an open fire. The homes of the wealthy had a tapered bread oven heated by a firebox inside.

When it comes to food and drink in ancient Egypt, both the rich and the poor had a delicious and varied diet.

Ancient Egyptian farmers grew a variety of vegetables, such as onions, leeks, garlic, legumes—beans, chickpeas, lentils, lettuce, radishes, cabbages, asparagus and cucumbers. Grapes, figs and dates were eaten fresh or dried. Other fruits included pomegranates, watermelons, and the fruit of the dom palm.The Nile was plentiful with fish, which the ancient Egyptians enjoyed fresh, dried, or salted. With the fish also comes their natural predators, wildfowl—geese, ducks, quails, and cranes. Ancient Egyptians loved domesticated poultry, too, but never ate chicken.

Red meat was costly and only the rich could afford it. Common people usually only ate meat during the festivals, when a sheep or goat might be slaughtered. Wealthy Egyptians could not only afford cattle, but wild game such as antelope, ibex, gazelle, and deer.

Baking, boiling, stewing, frying, grilling and roasting were food preparation techniques known to the ancient Egyptians. Ancient Egyptian food was cooked in earthenware pots or pans. The women cooked in the open air in the back of the house or on the roof to avoid smoke and cooking smells inside the house and the risk of starting a fire.

Vegetable oil and meat fat was mostly used for frying meat and vegetables, but ancient Egyptian food was also cooked in milk or butter. Dairy products were sometimes used to make soups and sauces.

Food in ancient Egypt was often spiced with aniseed, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, fenugreek, marjoram, mustard, thyme and parsley.

ancient egyptian beerThe most popular drink in ancient Egypt was beer. Everyone loved it, rich and poor, adults and children alike. Workmen were given beer as part of their pay. Barley was moistened with water into a dough and then left to stand. This dough was lightly baked, crumbled, more water was added and the mixture left to ferment. It was nutritious, sweet and rather syrupy.

Ancient Egyptians made a variety of wines, from grapes, dates, palm sap and pomegranates. It was expensive, served to important guests at banquets. And let's not forget that wine was not uniquely Egyptian. Kings and wealthy nobles often sipped very expensive imported wines, too.

Ancient Egyptian food and drink was not only for the living but was also a main component of the funerary ritual. The offering formula for the ka of the deceased consisted of bread, beer, ox and fowl and was written on stelae or on the walls of the tomb along with a picture of the deceased seated in front of a table of offerings depicting these food items. Relatives of the deceased could also bring food to the temple for the ka statue, which was ritually offered to the deceased and then consumed by the priests or given to the poor. Recent studies of mummies of priests reveal a high consumption of fatty products, responsible for the clogging of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and other heart diseases.

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MAKING FLOUR IN ANCIENT EGYPT

This is what it took to make flour from emmer wheat in the period between about 1600 and 1100 BC in Egypt.
Take uncleaned spikelets of wheat from your store. Sieve or winnow them to get rid of straw, chaff etc. Hand pick to take out weed seeds, stones, etc. Now you have clean emmer spikelets.
Put the spikelets in a mortar, sprinkle with water, and pound with a long pestle. This gives you a mix of chaff, freed grain, some large cracked grain, all damp.
Put all this to dry in the sun or over heat.
Now winnow. Several times. This gives you grain with the heavier bits of chaff.
Now start sieving, scooping the chaff from the upper layers. Do this several times.
Now pick out the last bits of chaff by hand. Now you have clean grain.
Now grind the grain on a simple grindstone.
Source: Rachel Laudan