Food in ancient Egypt: the Mediterranean diet starts here

Food in ancient Egypt: the Mediterranean diet starts here

March 15, 2019

Food in ancient Egypt: the Mediterranean diet starts here

What did the ancient Egyptians eat? Food plays a key role in the culture of a people, as portrayed by the works of art created in each period.

In ancient Egypt, the general belief was that life continued after death and so the dead would still need food and clothing on their journey in the Afterlife.  It is thanks to this conviction that we are able, today, to study the farming and food practices of ancient Egypt. Not only were food and beverages depicted on the walls of the tombs, but they were often physically present and preserved in special containers, while the funerary stelae were inscribed with magic formulas with the power to ensure that the food would last for eternity. Thanks to the discovery of these findings we now know which crops were the most widely cultivated by the Egyptians.

Portrayals of daily life in ancient Egypt

The wall paintings portraying scenes from daily life show how the food was consumed, at least among the wealthier classes.

Bread and beer were staples in ancient Egypt and they are also the products most frequently found in the tombs. Cereal growing was the most important farming activity for the region and was only made possible by the periodical flooding of the River Nile, which left a fertilizing substance in the soil: loam. Thanks to the Nile, cereals were harvested twice a year in ancient Egypt: but if the river ran dry, it heralded a period of widespread famine for the country. The cereals most frequently grown in the Nile Valley were emmer, wheat and barley. 

In the picture: bird hunting scene. Internal decorations of the tomb of Nebamun, around 1350 BC London, British Museum.

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Vine-growing also existed in ancient Egypt and wine was produced, but it was never as popular as beer. The wine was left to ferment in amphoras marked with the year and place of production, just like our wine bottles today. Amphoras inscribed with such information were found, for example, in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Vegetable and flower gardens were very widespread throughout ,ancient Egypt as were orchards and groves which guaranteed a supply of fruit and vegetables for the more fortunate families. Chick peas, broad beans and lentils were also part of the Egyptian daily diet, and it is no coincidence that they are considered the pioneers of the modern Mediterranean diet.

Hunting and fishing provided them with animal protein and the wall paintings in royal tombs often portray these activities.

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