Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ancient Egyptian Foods

Below are all types of food that the ancient Egyptians had that I could dig up.  Originally this was a list I made for a living history Vacation Bible School, but this list could be used for all sorts of other purposes.

I started out trying to limit this to the foods that would have been available in Egypt in the time of Joseph and Moses, but when these event occurred is highly debated among Biblical scholars and so really hard to nail down.   Also, sometimes I don't know when exactly a certain food/ingredient was used in Egypt, just that it was used at some point. 

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, at earliest, Late Middle Kingdom, or some time after that, but most likely before 1000 BCE.   

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).  


Egyptian Bread and Tigernut Cone Sweets
This is similar to the other tigernut recipes below, but they model the Egyptian method of making them, based off of depictions in Egyptian murals, not just the recipe.

Egyptian Beer Bread (made like Egyptians made it)
Scroll to the end to find recipe.   Beer bakes out.  Lots of good info on Egyptian baking above. 

Three Ancient Egyptian Recipes: Ta'amia (Bean Cakes), Ma'moul (Pastries)

"Tigernut" Sweets   (Includes Walnuts - introduced in Greco-Roman Times)
"Tigernut" Sweets II  (Includes Walnuts - introduced in Greco-Roman Times)

Horchata With Actual Tigernuts
(Note - skip the recipe for beer in the beginning.   The Horchata recipe is down below.  Tigernuts are sold now as a health food in some store so it might be possible to get them to make this recipe.  )

Tigernut Honey Cakes

Egyptian Palace Cake

Ta'amia/Falafel (Bean Cakes)  
While it's origins are disputed, some claim this dates back to the pharonic era of ancient Egypt.   Falafel today is usually made from chickpeas but in Egypt it would have been made from beans.

Tilapia Soup

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 de-seed watermelon served as a snack, and then later use the seeds to make this.  (Another version here doesn't mention drying seeds as long)

Dukkah Spice Blend
Ancient spice mixture that can be used to season meat, mixed with hummas, or used as a dip for bread.  (Scroll Down on Page for Recipe)

The Egyptians made pickles by soaking cucumbers in vinegar, and mixing in spices to flavor them (kids could have fun making their own pickles with combinations of spices Egyptians had, listed further down on this page.)  (11)


You can use the ingredients below to find food for snacking or imagine other recipes they could have made (and might have). Remember that 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 at the bottom of this page).


  • 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)
Egyptians had trouble keeping sand out of their bread...we know this because of the way the bread they ate wore down their teeth.  (12)

  • 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 were 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/Doum 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)
  • Celery Seeds
  • Cinnamon (imported and only available to very rich, sometimes even used in mummification) (10)
  • 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

*Cumin was associated with faithfulness, and so soldiers and merchants sometimes carried the seeds in their pockets to remind them of those waiting at home.   They also thought cumin could help digestion and settle the stomach. (10)

  • 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)



Throwback Thursday

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