Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ancient Egyptian Foods

Below are all types of food that the ancient Egyptians had that I could dig up.   While they had a wide variety of foods available, they couldn't use them all at once because some things would only be available in certain seasons (you can find more info on seasonality here).  I am trying to limit this to the foods that would have been available in Egypt in Joseph and Mosus, but when consulting various sources I don't always have that information.

NOTE ABOUT DATES:  We don't have definite dates for when Joseph and Moses lived, but since the story of Moses mentions chariots, which were not in Egypt until they were taken over by the Hyksos (in the 2nd Intermediate Period between the Middle and New Kingdom), we can limit it to AFTER the Middle Kingdom.  Joseph could have been, at earliest, Late Middle Kingdom.   The Hyksos introduced new foods so it's possible Mosus experienced a few different foods than Joseph did...but it's hard to say

FOR VBS VOLUNTEERS:  I've  included some things for historical interest that would not be feasible to use during VBS (don’t worry, I’m not suggesting serving wine or beer, or trying to hunt down papyrus root, which besides being hard to find is now endangered). The numbers refer to sources, which you can find at the bottom of the page if you would like to learn more about a particular food found in ancient Egypt.


Egyptian Bread (made like Egyptians made it)
Three Ancient Egyptian Recipes: Ta'amia (Bean Cakes), Ma'moul (Pastries)

Tigernut Sweets   (Includes Walnuts - introduced in Greco-Roman Times)
Tigernut Sweets  (Includes Walnuts - introduced in Greco-Roman Times)
Tigernut Sweets With Actual Tigernuts (sold now as a health food in some stores)

Egyptian Palace Cake

Watermelon Seed Recipe
I read that Egyptians originally cultivated watermelons for their seeds, not to eat the flesh--an indication that early on they weren’t sweet like today, though around the time of Joseph it seems they may have cultivated a more palatable, if not totally sweet, variety.  While we don’t know for certain how they ate the seeds, I found this simple recipe which seems like something they might have done (it’s a middle Eastern recipe with ingredients they had then).  You could de-seed watermelon to serve during snack during the first half of the week, and then use the seeds the last half to make this.  (Another version here doesn't mention drying seeds as long)


  • Bread (a main staple of the Egyptian Diet)
- made from emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) and six-row barley (Hordeum vulgare subsp. Hexastichum) (1)
- Bread was made from flour ground on grinding stones and mixed with water that was then kneaded and left to rise. The dough could be shaped in a flat loaf or baked in ceramic molds. (1)

  • Milk (from sheep, goat and cow)
  • Water
  • Beer (a main staple of diet)
  • Wine (mostly from grapes, but also from pomegranate, grapes, and other fruit)
  • Juices

MEAT (1)
  • Cattle
  • Chicken - used after Persian times, uncertain before that
  • Duck
  • Fish - primary source of meat for most Egyptians (included Nile perch, catfish, and mullets)
  • Geese
  • Goats
  • Pigs
  • Sheep
  • Wild animals were hunted, mainly from the desert, and included wild cattle, addax, antelope, hartebeest, gazelle, ibex, Barbary sheep, oryx, and ostriches.  Wild birds were also hunted.  Hippo and crocodile hunted mainly because they were dangerous. "In pharaonic times many of these desert fauna were hunted for sport by royalty and nobles; hunting dogs similar to the greyhound were used for this." (1)

  • Eggs
  • Cheeses
  • Yogurt
  • Butter (clarified, resembling oil...probably because of the heat).

  • Carob (Introduced in Middle Kingdom, used as a sweetener)
  • Celery - Introduced during the 18th Dynasty (early New Kingdom), eaten raw, and used to flavor stews. (9)
  • Cucumber (introduced in New Kingdom) (9)
  • Chickpeas (introduced in New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty) (9)
  • Cress (seeds used as flavoring, so possible that plant used like lettuce as well)(9)
  • Garlic
  • Fava Beans
  • Lima Beans
  • Leek
  • Lentils
  • Lettuce - Its leaves were eaten whole, dipped in oil and salt (4)
  • Lotus Tuber (Arum colocasia)
  • Mallow (4)
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Papyrus Tuber -”...they pull up from the fens the papyrus which grows every  year, and the upper parts of it they cut off and turn to other uses,  but that which is left below for about a cubit in length they eat or  sell: and those who desire to have the papyrus at its very best bake it  in an oven heated red-hot, and then eat it.”  Herodotus, Histories II, 2.92  (4) -
  • Raddish - white/pink (introduced in Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty)(9)
  • Tigernut (a root crop, not actually a nut - sometimes sold now as a health food ) (3)

  • Carob Trees - More common in new kingdom (1)
  • Dates and Date Palm
- Imported plant...not sure when imported. (1)
- Plentiful after hand pollination was practiced...not sure when that was
  • Dom Palm (native plant with brown fruit) (1)
  • Figs (common fig and sycomore fig)
  • Grapes and Raisins
  • Olives (rare) -there’s evidence of olives, though olive trees don't grow well in the southern part of the country - olive oil was a luxury item so probably olives were too.    (1)
  • Persea
  • Pomegranate - more common in New Kingdom, though still a luxury item (9)
  • Watermelon (2)  - probably was not as sweet as watermelon today.
  • Black Mulberry (introduced in New Kingdom)
  • Wild Zizyphus berries
  • Apricot (imported, only used by wealthy) 
  • Sesame
  • Almonds (New Kingdom on, rare, imported from Persia and Armenia) (5)
  • Watermelon Seeds
  • Lotus Seeds
  • Celery Seeds (introduced in early New Kingdom,  incorporated in sauces for grilled fish) (9)
  • Various other seeds

  • Anise (added to bread, flavored pork)(9)
  • Coriander (available from the New Kingdom onward, added to bread, seasoned fish) 
  • Cress Seeds
  • Cumin (available from the New Kingdom onward, flavored bread, fish)(9)
  • Dill (available from the New Kingdom onward) (9)
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek - was used as a spice and possibly after the seeds were removed the stems provided fodder for livestock.
  • Garlic
  • Majoram (9) 
  • Mustar (possibly as early as Middle Kingdom) (9)
  • Parsley (9)
  • Rosemary (9)
  • Thyme (9)
  • Salt

  • Honey -produced in ceramic hives (1)
  • Olive Oil - an imported item common after the Hyksos (9)
  • Seed and Nut Oils
  • Celery Seed Oil (used as a food preservative in New Kingdom)(9)
  • Other Oils
  • Vinegar (8)


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