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Encyclopedia > Ancient Egyptian cuisine
An Egyptian couple harvesting from a painting in the tomb from the early Ramessid period.

Ancient Egyptian cuisine covers a span of over 3000 years, but still retained many consistent traits until well inte Greco-Roman times. The staples were bread and beer, often accompanied by onions and some meat, game and fish. Khafres Pyramid (4th dynasty) and Great Sphinx of Giza (c. ...



There are few precise accounts of how many meals were eaten, but it has been assumed that the wealthy would have two or three meals a day; a light morning meal, a larger lunch and dinner later in the evening. The general population would most likely eat a simple breakfast of bread, beer and onions and a main meal in the early afternoon.[1]

Depictions of banquets can be found in painting from both the Old and New Kingdom. They usually started sometime in the afternoon. Men and women were separated unless they were married. Seating varied according to rank with those of the highest status sitting on chairs, those slightly lower sat on stools and those lowest in rank sat on the bare floor. Before the food was served, handwashing basins were provided along with perfumes and cones of scented fat were lit to spread pleasant smells or to repel insects, depending on the type. Lotus flowers and flower collars were handed out and professional dancers (primarily women) entertained, accompanies by musicians playing harps, lutes, drums, tamborines and clappers. There was usually considerable amounts of alcohol and abundant quantities of food; there were whole roast oxen, ducks, geese, pigeons and at times fish. The dishes frequently consisted of stews served with great amounts of bread, fresh vegetables and fruit. As sweets there were cakes baked with dates and sweetened with honey. The goddess Hathor was often invoked during feasts.[2] Lotus has many definitions. ... This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ...

Food preparation

Food could be prepared by stewing, baking, boiling, grilling, frying or roasting and spices and herbs were added for flavor, though the former were expensive imports and therefore confined to the tables of the wealthy. Food such as meats was mostly preserved by salting, and dates and raisins could be dried for extensive storage.[3]


A depiction of the royal bakery from an engraving in the tomb of of Ramesses III in the Valley of the Kings; 20th dynasty.

Egyptian bread was made almost exclusively from emmer wheat, which was more difficult to turn into flour when compared most other varieties of wheat. The chaff does not come off through threshing, but comes in spikelets that needed to be removed by moistening and pounding with a pestle to avoid crushing the grains inside. It was then dried in the sun, winnowed and sieved and finally milled on a saddle quern, which functioned by moving the grindstone back and forth, rather than with a rotating motion. The baking techniques varied over time. In the Old Kingdom, heavy pottery molds were filled with down and then set in the embers to bake. During the Middle Kingdom tall cones were used on square hearths. In the New Kingdom a new type of a large open-topped clay oven, cylindrical in shape was used, which was encased in thick mud bricks and mortar. Dough was then slapped on the heated inner wall and pealed off when done. Tombs from the New Kingdom show images of bread in many different shapes and sizes. Loaves shaped like human figures, fish, various animals and fans, all of varying dough texture. Flavorings used for bread included coriander seeds and dates, but it is not known if this was ever used by the poor.[4] Usermaatre Meryamun Powerful one of Maat and Ra, Beloved of Amun Nomen Ramesse Hekaiunu Ra bore him, Ruler of Heliopolis Died 1151 BC Burial KV11 Major Monuments Medinet Habu Ramesses III (also written Ramses and Rameses) was the second Pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty and is considered to be... Location of the valley in the Theban Hills, West of the Red Sea October 1988 (red arrow shows location) The Valley of the Kings (Arabic: وادي الملوك Wadi Biban el-Muluk; Gates of the King)[1] is a valley in Egypt where for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th... The Twentieth Dynasty of ancient Egypt was founded by Setnakhte, but its only important member was Ramesses III, who modelled his career after Ramesses II the Great. ... Binomial name Triticum dicoccon Schrank Emmer wheat is a low yielding, awned wheat. ... For other uses, see Flour (disambiguation). ... Threshing is the process of beating cereal plants in order to separate the seeds or grains from the straw. ... Mortar and pestle Mortar used to pulverise plant material with liquid nitrogen A mortar and pestle are a pair of tools used in conjunction with each other to grind and mix substances. ... Quern-stones are a pair of stone tools for hand grinding a wide variety of materials. ... Binomial name Coriandrum sativum L. Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults. ...

Other than emmer, barley was grown to make bread and also used for making beer, and so were lotus seeds and tiger nut. The grit from the quern stones used to grind the flour mixed in with bread and was a major source of tooth decay due to the wear it produced on the enamel. For those who could afford there was also fine dessert bread and cakes baked from high-grade flour.[5] Binomial name Hordeum vulgare L. Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is a cereal grain, which serves as a major animal feed crop, with smaller amounts used for malting and in health food. ... Lotus has many definitions. ... Binomial name Cyperus esculentus L. Cyperus esculentus (Chufa Sedge, Yellow Nutsedge, Tigernut Sedge, Earthalmond) is a species of sedge native to warm temperate to subtropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere. ...

Fruit and vegetables

Vegetables were eaten as a complement to the ubiquitous beer and bread, and the most common were long-shooted green scallions and garlic and both were also had medical uses. There was also lettuce, celery (eaten raw or used to flavor stews), certain types of cucumber and, perhaps, some types of Old World gourds and even melons. By Roman-Greco times there were turnips, but it is not certain if they were available before that period. Various tubers of sedges, including papyrus were eaten raw, boiled, roasted or ground into flour and were rich in nutrients. Tiger nut (Cyperus esculentus) was used to make a dessert made from the dried and ground tubers mixed with honey. Lotus and similar flowering aquatic plants could be eaten raw or turned into flour, and both root and stem were edible. A number of pulses and legumes such as peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas were vital sources of protein.[6] Chopped spring onion The common name scallion(Or Don Patch sword as on Bobobo) is associated with various members of the genus Allium that lack a fully-developed bulb. ... Binomial name Allium sativum L. Allium sativum L., commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion family Alliaceae. ... Genera See text The Family Cyperaceae, or the Sedge family, is a taxon of monocot flowering plants that superficially resemble grasses or rushes. ... Papyrus plant Cyperus papyrus at Kew Gardens, London Papyrus is an early form of paper produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt. ... Binomial name Cyperus esculentus L. Cyperus esculentus (Chufa Sedge, Yellow Nutsedge, Tigernut Sedge, Earthalmond) is a species of sedge native to warm temperate to subtropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere. ... Lotus has many definitions. ...

The most common fruit were dates and there were also figs, grapes (and raisins), dom palm nuts (eaten raw or steeped to make juice), certain species of Persea and nabk berries (a species of the genus Ziziphus).[7] Binomial name Phoenix dactylifera L. The Date Palm Phoenix dactylifera is a palm, extensively cultivated for its edible fruit. ... Species About 800, including: Ficus altissima Ficus americana Ficus aurea Ficus benghalensis- Indian Banyan Ficus benjamina- Weeping Fig Ficus broadwayi Ficus carica- Common Fig Ficus citrifolia Ficus coronata Ficus drupacea Ficus elastica Ficus godeffroyi Ficus grenadensis Ficus hartii Ficus lyrata Ficus macbrideii Ficus macrophylla- Moreton Bay Fig Ficus microcarpa- Chinese... Species Many, including: - Avocado - Redbay - Viñátigo - Lingue - Swampbay Persea is a genus of about 150 species of evergreen trees belonging to the laurel family, Lauraceae. ... Species About 40, including: Ziziphus glabarrima Zizyphus joazeiro Ziziphus lotus Ziziphus mauritiana Ziziphus spinachristi Zizyphus spinosa Ziziphus zizyphus Ziziphus is a genus of about 40 species of spiny shrubs and small trees in the buckthorn family Rhamnaceae, distributed in the warm-temperate and subtropical parts of the Old World. ...

Herbs and spices

Dill, fenugreek, parsley, thyme, white and black cumin, fennel, marjoram and mint are all native to Egypt and were used in cooking in ancient times. Both cinnamon and pepper were imported from the New Kingdom and onwards.[8] Binomial name Piper nigrum L. Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. ...


Along with bread, beer was a staple of the ancient Egyptians and was drunk daily. Unlike most modern beers it was very cloudy with plenty of solids and highly nutritious, quite reminiscent of gruel. It was an important source of protein, minerals and vitamins and was so valuable that beer jars were often used as a measurement of value and was used in medicine. Little is known about specific types of beer, but there is mention of, for example, sweet beer but without any specific details mentioned. Conical pottery from pre-dynastic times has been found at Hierakonpolis and Abydios with emmer wheat residue that shows signs of gentle heating from below. Though not conclusive evidence of early beer brewing it is an indication that this might have been what they were used for. Archeaological evidence show that beer was made by first baking "beer bread", a type of well-leavened, lightly baked bread that did not kill the yeasts, which was then crumbled over a sieve, washed with water in a vat and then left to ferment. There are claims of dates or malts having been used, but the evidence is inconclusive. Gruel is a type of preparation consisting of some type of cereal boiled in water or milk. ... Nekhen (Greek: Hierakonpolis, Arabic: Kom El-Ahmar) was the religious capital of Upper Egypt at the end of the pre-dynastic era ( 3200- 3100 BC.) and probably also during the Early Dynastic Era ( 3100 - 2686 BC). ...

Microscopy of beer residue points to a different method of brewing where bread was not used as an ingredient. One batch of grain was sprouted, which produced enzymes. The next batch was cooked in water, dispersing the starch and then the two batches were mixed. The enzymes began to consume the starch to produce sugar. The resulting mixture was then sieved to remove chaff and yeast (and probably lactic acid) was then added which began a fermentation process that produced alcohol. This method of brewing is still used in parts of non-industrialized Africa. Most beers was made of barley and only a few of emmer wheat, but so far no evidence of flavoring has been found.[9] This article or section is not written in the formal tone expected of an encyclopedia article. ... Neuraminidase ribbon diagram An enzyme (in Greek en = in and zyme = blend) is a protein, or protein complex, that catalyzes a chemical reaction and also controls the 3D orientation of the catalyzed substrates. ... Lactic acid (IUPAC systematic name: 2-hydroxypropanoic acid), also known as milk acid, is a chemical compound that plays a role in several biochemical processes. ...

Wine from grapes, dates and figs were also available, but were expensive and something reserved for the elite.[10]


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; diet
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; banquets
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; diet
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; bread
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; diet
  6. ^ Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; diet
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; diet
  8. ^ Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; diet
  9. ^ Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; beer
  10. ^ Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; diet


  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (2001) Donald B. Redford, editor in chief, ISBN 0-19-510234-7

External links

  • Food: Bread, beer, and all good things, reshafim.org.il, 2000-2005.

The history of cuisine
Ancient Egyptian cuisine | Roman cuisine | Maya cuisine | Aztec cuisine | Byzantine cuisine | Medieval cuisine | Ottoman cuisine | Early modern European cuisine | History of Chinese cuisine



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