Bakery and brewery
The Egyptians ate a low-fat, high-fiber diet with a lot of grains. They ate a variety of plant oils and fats, bread, milk, lentils, cottage cheese, cakes, onions, meat, dates, melons, milk products, figs, ostrich eggs, almonds, peas, beans, olives, pomegranates, grapes, vegetables, honey, garlic and other foods. The Egyptians ate a variety of grains, including barely and emmer-wheat. The Egyptians cultivated barley, emmer wheat, beans, chickpeas, flax, and other types of vegetables. Barley was used for making beer. Emmer wheat was used to make bead. Lentils were discovered in an Egyptian tomb dating back to 2000 B.C.).

John Baines of the University of Oxford wrote: “The principal crops were cereals, emmer wheat for bread, and barley for beer. These diet staples were easily stored...Papyrus, a swamp plant, may have been cultivated or gathered wild. Papyrus roots could be eaten, while the stems were used for making anything from boats and mats to the characteristic Egyptian writing material; this too was exported. A range of fruit and vegetables was cultivated. Meat from livestock was a minor part of the diet, but birds were hunted in the marshes and the Nile produced a great deal of fish, which was the main animal protein for most people. [Source: John Baines, BBC, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford, February 17, 2011 |::|]

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “Agricultural crops were not the mainstay of the ancient Egyptian diet. Rather, the Nile supplied a constant influx of fish which were cultivated year around. In addition to fish, water fowl and cattle were also kept by the Egyptians. Flocks of geese were raised from the earliest times and supplied eggs, meat and fat. However, the domestic fowl didn't make its appearance until Ramesside times, and then in only very isolated places. The Egyptian farmers, in their early experimental phase, also tried to domesticate other animals such as hyenas, gazelles and cranes but gave up after the Old Kingdom. Cattle were also part of the staple diet of the Egyptians, suggesting that grazing land was available for the Egyptians during the times when the Nile receded. However, during the inundation, cattle were brought to the higher levels of the flood plain area and were often fed the grains harvested from the previous year.” [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, \+\]

Herodotus wrote: “The Egyptians are the healthiest of all men, next to the Libyans; the explanation of which, in my opinion, is that the climate in all seasons is the same: for change is the great cause of men's falling sick, more especially changes of seasons. They eat bread, making loaves which they call “cyllestis,”37 of coarse grain. For wine, they use a drink made from barley, for they have no vines in their country. They eat fish either raw and sun-dried, or preserved with brine. Quails and ducks and small birds are salted and eaten raw; all other kinds of birds, as well as fish (except those that the Egyptians consider sacred) are eaten roasted or boiled.”

Tombs with mummies were often packed with food such as snails for the afterlife. Rice arrived in Egypt in the 4th century B.C. and around that time India was exporting it to Greece.The 4,900-year-old tomb of King Aha had three chambers and was stocked with oxen meat, waterbirds, cheese, dried figs, bread and many vessels of beer and wine for the afterlife journey. A small box found in tomb of King Tut contained 25 varieties of barely, each in its own compartment.

See Agriculture

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Discovering Egypt; BBC History: Egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt; Egypt’s Golden Empire; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt; Ancient Egypt Magazine; Egypt Exploration Society ; Amarna Project; Egyptian Study Society, Denver; The Ancient Egypt Site; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East; Egyptology Resources

Candy, Oil and Ice in Ancient Egypt

“One of the most prized products of the Nile and of Egyptian agriculture was oil. Oil was customarily used as a payment to workmen employed by the state, and depending on the type, was highly prized. The most common oil (kiki) was obtained from the castor oil plant. Sesame oil from the New Kingdom was also cultivated and was highly prized during the later Hellenistic Period.”

References to candy date back to 2000 B.C. Images in tombs from the 11th dynasty depict confectionery processing taking place in temples. The treats were offered to the gods or reserved for noblemen. Around 1000 B.C., Egyptians produced hard candies made from honey, herbs, spices and citrus fruit (sugar wouldn't be available for another 2,500 years). A cake made with sesame, honey and probably milk was found in the 4,200-year-old grave of Pepionkh. It is the oldest known piece of cake.

In ancient India and Egypt ice was sometimes derived from water set in the ground that froze due to cooling evaporation. As early as 3000 B.C., Egyptians were able to make ice in the desert by taking advantage of a natural phenomena that occurs in dry climates. Water left out at night in shallow clay trays on a bed of straw would freeze as a result of evaporation into the dry air and sudden temperatures drops even though the temperature was well above freezing.

The were reports of cannibalism in ancient China, India and Egypt associated with exotic dishes enjoyed by the aristocracy and people surviving during famines.

Food of the Pyramid Builders

Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester: “The animal bones recovered from this area and from the pyramid town include duck, the occasional sheep and pig and, most unexpectedly, choice cuts of prime beef. The ducks, sheep and pigs could have been raised amidst the houses and workshops of the pyramid town but cattle, an expensive luxury, must have been grazed on pasture-probably the fertile pyramid estates in the Delta-and then transported live for butchery at Giza.” [Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Alexander Stille wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Judging by remains at the site, they were eating a great deal of beef...Beef cattle were mostly raised in rural estates and then perhaps taken by boat to the royal settlements at Memphis and Giza, where they were slaughtered. Pigs, by contrast, tended to be eaten by the people who produced the food. Archaeologists study the “cattle to pig” ratio as an indication of the extent to which workers were supplied by the central authority or by their own devices—and the higher the ratio, the more elite the occupants. [Source: Alexander Stille, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2015 |=|]

“At Lehner’s “Lost City of the Pyramids” (as he sometimes calls it), “the ratio of cattle to pig for the entire site stands at 6:1, and for certain areas 16:1,” he writes of those well-stocked areas. Other, rather exotic items such as leopard’s teeth (perhaps from a priest’s robe), hippopotamus bones (carved by craftsmen) and olive branches (evidence of trade with the Levant) have also turned up in some of the same places, suggesting that the people who populated Lehner’s working village were prized specialists.” |=|

Ancient Egyptian Bread

Bread was the staple of the ancient Egyptian diet, and most of it was made with barley or emmer wheat, a twin-kerneled form of grain that is very difficult to husk. Hieroglyphics have recorded 14 types of bread, including sourdough and whole wheat breads. Scholars speculate that families usually ate unleavened pita-style bread at home and ate pot-baked breads during temple festivals and special occasions. [Source: David Roberts, National Geographic, January 1995]

20120216-bread dynasty_models.jpg
carrying bread and other things
The ancient Egyptians grinded up grain on granite grind stones. Among the objects unearthed at Umm Mawagir (“mother of bread molds,” in Arabic)---a settlement that flourished in Egypt’s western desert more than 3,500 years ago--- was a double bread mold, one of a half-ton of bakery artifacts. The study of ancient bread has been made possible because it was the practice of ancient Egyptians to leave food and beer in their tombs for sustenance in the afterlife and the arid climate preserved those remains.

In a report published in the journal Science in 1996, Dr. Delwen Samuel, a research associate in archeology at Cambridge, described his examination with optical and electron microscopes of nearly 70 loaves of bread found among the ruins of workers' villages. Almost all of the bread was made from a type of wheat known as emmer, sometimes flavored with coriander and fig.

There is little evidence that Egyptians used modern-style wheat to make bread. Modern bread is high in gluten, which makes it light, full of air holes, and with a crispy crust. Barley and emmer wheat are low in gluten and bread made with these grains tends to heavy and dense. Wild yeast native to the areas bread was produced made the bread rise. The Egyptians were not familiar with yeast and they believe that bread rose by way of "miraculous powers. To get their bread to rise they let their dough stand for a week or so, so that it fermented like wine as well as rose.

The Egyptians made toast but they did not do it to improve the flavor or texture but to remove moisture that attracted mold. Making toast preserved the bread longer.

Making Bread in Ancient Egypt

A bakery found near the Pyramids of Giza was 17 feet long and eight feet wide. The bread was often made in molds or pottery bread pots that produced loaves in many shapes and sizes---round, flat, conical and pointed. Most bread appears to have been made on flat trays, or in bell-shaped pots (14 inches in diameter and 14 inches deep). Archaeologists also found egg-carton-like trenches. The holes held bread-baking pots and the trenches held coals that were used to bake the bread. [Source: David Roberts, National Geographic, January 1995]

The most common type of bread was made by first pouring thin cake-batter-like dough into a thick clay pot about the size of a large vase. After the dough had risen the pot was placed in a hole dug in the embers of a fire. A second pot was heated and placed on top of the first pot, and together the two pots created an "oven environment. A small sculpture from ancient Egypt shows a man rolling dough on his hands and knees.

Based on modern experiments scientists determined the bread was baked for around an hour and 40 minutes and a cone-shaped loaf of bread was removed by running a knife along the inside of the pot. The bread was heavy and as nutritious as modern store-bought bread. One of the scientist who participated in making bread described it as "sourdough bread the way it's meant to taste."

Describing the result of his effort to make bread the ancient Egyptian way, archaeologist Mark Lehner told National Geographic: "We did produce edible bread from various combinations of barely and emmer, albeit a bit too sour even for most sourdough tastes because we let he dough sit too long before baking. Each of our loaves was heavy and massive, large enough to feed several people at one meal.


Ancient Bakery Found in Egyptian Desert

In 2010, 3,500-year-old bakery was discovered an ancient Egyptian settlement, rough a half-kilometer long, at the El-Kharga Oasis by Theban Desert Road Survey, a project to map ancient desert routes in the Western desert, a team of Egyptian and US archaeologists from Yale University led by John Coleman Darnell. Making bread on a massive scale was the main occupation for the majority of the inhabitants, said Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. [Source: Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News, August 25, 2010]

Rossella Lorenzi wrote in Discovery News: “The archaeologists unearthed two ovens and a potter’s wheel. This was used to make the ceramic bread molds in which the bread was baked. The large debris dumps outside the bakery suggests that the settlement produced bread in such large quantities that it may have even been feeding an army, Hawass said in a statement.

Fruits and Vegetables in Ancient Egypt

Onions originated in Egypt. Egyptians believed that onions symbolized the many-layered universe. They swore oaths on onions like a modern-time Bible.

Purple peas were found in the tomb of King Tut. Cucumbers were known in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. They originated in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, where they have been cultivated for more than 3,000 years.

Radishes were cultivated by the ancient Egyptians at least 4,000 years ago. They were eaten with onions, and garlic by workers. Egyptians believed that radishes were aphrodisiacs. Leeks were also eaten in ancient Egypt.

Melons are one the earliest crops along with wheat, barley, various legumes, grapes, dates, pistachios and almonds. Melons are native to Iran, Turkey and the western Asia. They are depicted in an Egyptian tomb painting from 2400 B.C., Greek documents from the 3rd century B.C. mention them. They were described by Pliny the Elder in the 1st century A.D.

Grape seeds have been found in 3,000-year-old mummies.

Dates, Spices and Olives in Ancient Egypt

glass and bronze grapes
The ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans all consumed olives and olive oil. Olives were first cultivated in Palestine around 4000 B.C. and spread to Syria and Turkey and reached the ancient Egypt around 1500 B.C. (the Egyptian were using olive purchased from Palestine long before that). According to an old Egyptian saying "A date palm is the only creation of God that resembles man. Unlike other trees, a date palm gives more as it grows older."

In ancient times, olive oil was used in everything from oil lamps, to religious anointments, to cooking and preparing condiments and medicines. It was in great demand and traveled well and people like the Philistines grew rich trading it.

Egyptians flavored their food with sea salt, thyme, marjoram and essences of fruit and nuts, particularly almonds. Saffron was known in ancient Egypt. Stigmas have been found in Egyptian mummies and Cleopatra used in her cosmetics. The ancient Egyptians believed that licorice was an aphrodisiac. King Tut ate licorice root before engaging his queen.

Garlic was consumed by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. The Romans regarded it as a food for the lower classes. The pyramid builders ate lot of onions and garlic. One of the first recorded strikes occurred when their garlic ration was reduced. A slave, records show, could be bought for seven kilograms of garlic.

Meat in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptians ate the meat of cattle, sheep and goats. Lots of bones from slaughtered animals have been found. Hieroglyphics show ancient Egyptians hunting ducks, antelope and a variety of wild animals and using nets to catch birds as well as fish. There are even hieroglyphics describing slaves making foie gras.

The kind of meat that people at was an indicator of their wealth and status. Veal and roast goose were regarded as treats that generally only the upper classes could enjoy. The poor ate goat and muttons if they ate any meat all.

Pigs were eaten for a time but there was a prejudice against pork associated with Seth, god of evil. Pigs are depicted at a New Kingdom (1055-1069 B.C.) temple in El Kab, south of Luxor. As time went on the ancient Egyptians distanced themselves from pigs, regarding them as unclean, and abstained from pork. Herodotus wrote “the pig is regarded among them as an unclean animal so much so that if a man passing accidently touches a pig, he instantly hurries to the river and plunges in with his clothes on.” Herodotus describes swineherds as an inbreed caste forbidden from setting foot in temples.

The Egyptians ate a lot of fish. They ate all the varieties that were found in the Nile and many from the Mediterranean. Archaeologists have found evidence e of fish processing operation, where fish were cleaned, salted and smoked. Fish was also made into sauce.

Meat mummies of an afterlife feast displayed at the Egyptian Museum include ducks, pigeons, legs of beef, roast and an oxtail for soup. They were all dried in natron, wrapped in linen and packed in a picnic basket. “Whether or not you got it regularly in life didn’t matter because you got it for eternity,” one archeologist said.

Meat and the Giza Pyramid Builders

cattle cutting
Dr. Richard Redding and Brian V. Hunt wrote: “In an area of the world where people have traditionally reserved meat eating mostly for special occasions and feast-days, we have found evidence that the ancient state provisioned the pyramid city with enough cattle, sheep, and goat to feed thousands of people prime cuts of meat for more than a generation—even if they ate it every day. [Source: Dr. Richard Redding, Archaeozoologist, University of Michigan and Brian V. Hunt, Ancient Egypt Research Associates.,, January 11, 2012 *|*]

“We have examined and identified over 175,000 bones and bone fragments from the excavations at the Giza pyramid settlement. The bones are from fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. About 10 percent have been identifiable to at least the level of the genus (a group of closely related species). Cattle and sheep dominate the fauna. We have found: 3,356 cattle fragments; 6,897 sheep and goat fragments; 536 pig fragments The ratio of individual sheep and goat to individual cattle is 5 to 1. *|*

“It might appear that sheep and goats were more common at Giza than cattle, and that sheep and goats were more important. But remember that an 18-month-old bull produces 10 to 12 times as much meat as an 18-month-old ram The ratio of sheep to goats at Giza is biased towards sheep. For the entire settlement site, the ratio of sheep to goat is 3 to 1. There is a low frequency of pig bones. *|*

“The cattle and sheep consumed at the settlement were young. 30 percent of the cattle died before 8 months, 50 percent before 16 months, and only 20 percent were older than 24 months. 90 percent of the sheep and goats survived 10 months, only 50 percent were older than 16 months, and only 10 percent older than 24 months. The cattle and sheep are predominately male. The ratio of male to female cattle is 6 to 1. The ratio of male to female sheep and goats is 11 to 1.” *|*

How Was So Much Meat Supplied for Giza Pyramid Builders

Dr. Richard Redding and Brian V. Hunt wrote: “What does this tell us about life at the pyramid settlement? The agrarian society of ancient Egypt was centered on crops and animals. The Egyptians’ colorful tomb paintings depict a rich agricultural life and we find evidence of this life in the archaeological remains of their settlements. The Egyptians could not catch fish, birds, and wild mammals in numbers adequate to support a large settlement like that at Giza. [Source: Dr. Richard Redding, Archaeozoologist, University of Michigan and Brian V. Hunt, Ancient Egypt Research Associates.,, January 11, 2012 *|*]

livestock slaughter

“Feeding the pyramid builders required an increased production of domestic mammals: sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs. But there may have been inadequate space near Giza to support large herds of animals to feed the pyramid builders. Where did the supply of meat protein come from? Our models of animal use in the Middle East and Egypt are based on studies of the ecological, reproductive, productive, physiological and behavioral characteristics of domestic cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. These models help us make predictions. *|*

“The royal administrators had to develop a system that encouraged the production of animals beyond the needs of the villages of the Nile Delta and the Nile valley. They then collected the surplus and moved it along the Nile to Giza. If the Giza settlement was organized and provisioned by a central authority (the royal administration), then we expect certain evidence to emerge from the archaeological data. Based on our knowledge of agrarian societies and food production, the evidence at Giza should show: *|*

“Based on the data above, we see that the pyramid settlement at Giza was a well-provisioned site, supplied by the central authority; the archaeological pattern is not one of a livestock producing site. A central authority gathered predominately young, male sheep, goats, and cattle and brought them to the site to feed the occupants; the bones of these animals dominate the faunal remains and pigs are in very little evidence. *|*

“Without a central authority, this surplus creates a labor problem for herders and agriculturists. Do they reduce the herd size or increase meat consumption seasonally? It would therefore have been relatively easy for administrators to encourage villages to increase production. The central authority then becomes a convenient market for the surplus in exchange for goods and services. Imagine a division across the Nile Delta or Valley: cattle and goats in the middle and sheep and goats along the edges. Sheep and goats would go out into the high deserts in the rainy season and returned to the edges of the delta or valley in the dry season.” *|*

Animals Consumed by the Giza Pyramid Builders

Dr. Richard Redding and Brian V. Hunt wrote: “Pigs would have been unsatisfactory for provisioning a workforce on a large-scale in the ancient world. They cannot be herded and do not travel well over long distances. There are no nomadic pig herders anywhere in the world today. Pigs have a dispersed birthing pattern that is not seasonal; they give birth up to three times a year. Therefore, young pigs are available at almost anytime for consumption. Pigs provided no secondary products (hair, milk, etc.) and were therefore less valuable than cattle, sheep, and goats. Because of the pig’s unsuitability for feeding workers on a large scale, the Egyptian workforce administrators were not interested in them as stock, and pigs were not involved in inter-regional exchange the way other animal stocks like cattle, sheep, and goats were. [Source: Dr. Richard Redding, Archaeozoologist, University of Michigan and Brian V. Hunt, Ancient Egypt Research Associates.,, January 11, 2012 *|*]

“Our studies indicate, however, that while the central authority did not consider pigs a valued provisioning resource, Egyptian families reared pigs for protein. Even today, in rural and urban areas around the world, farmers and non-farmers use pigs (where they are not proscribed by religion). *|*

“We know that the Egyptians recorded regular and detailed counts of animal stocks throughout the Nile Valley. These counts are a clear indication of the value of animals as a commodity to the state. Although they cannot provide the quantity of meat that cattle do, sheep and goats are valuable for similar reasons. They can be herded and provide secondary products. *|*

“Sheep, goats, and cattle can and do travel long distances. Americans in the 19th century drove cattle to market over vast distances. Nomadic sheep and goat pastoralists today move animals 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) by hoof in migration (e.g. Qashghi in Iran). In the 4th Dynasty, it was not possible to rear sheep, goats, and cattle around Giza in the numbers needed for the pyramid builders. We are working on an estimate of the farm area required to rear these animals in sufficient numbers to provide a surplus that would support 8,000-10,000 workers laboring at ancient Giza. Preliminary estimates suggest a required area substantially larger than the Giza environs would allow.

In Egypt, ranchers would have raised cattle in grassy areas with wells and watering holes like the Nile Delta. They would have raised sheep in the drier areas. Goats could have thrived in both places and would have complimented cattle rearing because these animals do not compete for food. The administrators would have organized drives of sheep, goats, and cattle between the Nile Valley and the high desert to move the required animals to Giza. In a foreshadowing of modern manufacturing, the animals would arrive in waves—a “just in time” delivery system. *|*

“Sheep, cattle, and goats all have secondary products beyond their meat: Sheep’s wool can be woven for cloth. Leather is valuable for clothing and tools. Cattle bones can be used to make tools. The ancient inhabitants may also have consumed milk from cows and goats, but not in such large quantities that it would have been signficant for the diet of the pyramid labor force. Secondary produce makes all of these animals more valuable resources. Sheep and goats have tight birthing seasons (compared to pigs) and produce age classes from which the young male surplus needs to be harvested. As with cattle, female sheep and goats are needed to produce offspring, while only a few males are needed for breeding.” *|*

Kom el-Hisn: the Meat Supply Center for the Giza Pyramid Builders?


Dr. Richard Redding and Brian V. Hunt wrote: “The Old Kingdom (5th and 6th Dynasty, 2465-2150 B.C.) Egyptian village, Kom el-Hisn, was excavated by archaeologists in 1985, 1986, and 1988. A contradiction appears in the archaeological record there. There is abundant evidence of cattle dung from the Old Kingdom level at Kom el-Hisn, which means there must have been large herds there. Yet the cattle bones indicate two things: the numbers of cattle slaughtered at Kom el-Hisn are relatively few and the bones that exist are from very old or very young individuals. [Source: Dr. Richard Redding, Archaeozoologist, University of Michigan and Brian V. Hunt, Ancient Egypt Research Associates.,, January 11, 2012 *|*]

“Where are the prime, young males, which provide the best cuts of beef? The residents were not consuming the cattle they reared and were consuming few of the sheep. They only used very old animals or animals that were very young and ill. The residents of Kom el-Hisn were dependent on the pig as a source of protein and, unsurprisingly, we find a dominance of pig bone at the site. *|*

“Kom el-Hisn is just 4 kilometers from the ecotone where the Nile Valley meets the desert. The Egyptians could have reared cattle in the grassy areas around their villages and sent herders out with flocks of sheep and goats to exploit the ecotonal area. The royal cattlemen periodically gathered up herds of young, male cattle and sheep (1 to 2 years) and drove them along the Nile to a central point for redistribution. These young male animals were not consumed locally and so their remains did not enter the archaeological record at Kom el-Hisn. *|*

“Cattle were raised at Kom el-Hisn but not consumed there. Where were the consumers? We hypothesize that Kom el-Hisn was a regional or provincial center for raising cattle, but that the young males were sent to the core area of the Old Kingdom state—the capital zone and the pyramid zone—for feeding cities. Our systematic excavations and retrieval of animal bone from such core-area settlements, like Giza, allow us to test our hypothesis. In fact, we find the inverse ratios of Kom el-Hisn: lots of cattle, sheep, and goat but very little pig.” *|*

Tale of Horus and the Pig: Why Egyptians Don’t Eat Pork

Coffin Text: The Tale of Horus and the Pig, (c. 1900 B.C.): Why the Egyptians did not eat pork: “O Batit of the evening, you swamp-dwellers, you of Mendes, ye of Buto, you of the shade of Re which knows not praise, you who brew stoppered beer---do you know why Rekhyt [Lower Egypt] was given to Horus? It was Re who gave it to him in recompense for the injury in his eye. It was Re--he said to Horus: "Pray, let me see your eye since this has happened to it" [injured in the fight with Seth]. [Source: A. de Buck, “The Egyptian Coffin Texts,” (Chicago, 1918), p. 326, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt, Fordham University]

Then Re saw it. Re said: "Pray, look at that injury in your eye, while your hand is a covering over the good eye which is there." Then Horus looked at that injury. It assumed the form of a black pig. Thereupon Horus shrieked because of the state of his eye, which was stormy [inflamed]. Horus said: "Behold, my eye is as at that first blow which Seth made against my eye!" Thereupon Horus swallowed his heart before him [lost consciousness].

Then Re said: "Put him upon his bed until he has recovered." It was Seth---he has assumed form against him as a black pig; thereupon he shot a blow into his eye. Then Re said: "The pig is an abomination to Horus." "Would that he might recover," said the gods. That is how the pig became an abomination to the gods, as well as men, for Horus' sake...”

Banquets and Eating Customs in Ancient Egypt

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At royal banquets, guests sat on woven mats and drank bowl after bowl of red wine and ate fish, beef, fowl and bread and honey with their fingers. Servant girls washed their hands before they carried in trays of grapes, figs and palm. Beautiful and topless dancers performed to the music of flutes, harps and bone clappers.

Recounting an Old Kingdom tale, Herodotus wrote a pharaoh"had innumerable lamps made, by the light of which he set himself every evening to drink and be merry, and never ceased day or night from the pursuit of pleasure." He had been told earlier that he had only six years to live so "his objective” was "turning night into day to extend the six remaining years of his life into twelve.”

The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used towel-like napkins and finger bowls of water scented with things like rose petals, herbs and rosemary. The Egyptians used particular scents---orange blossom, myrrh, almond, cassia---for different courses.

Food from Ancient Nubia: Dates and Ostrich Eggs

The main food crop of ancient Nubia, according to Ancientfoods and, “seems to be sorghum; evidence for this is found in Kushite pottery. Dates are one of the available crops grown along the Nile, especially in Upper Nubia. In the sixth century AD, the Nubians were well known by the Arabs for their good date-wine production. Date-wine is a common traditional drink in Sudan today. [Source: Ancientfoods,, May 13, 2011 ***]

“The extensive production of doam (palm fruit) is also evident from the New kingdom Egyptian relieves, as Nubians are often depicted carrying doam as gifts to the Egyptian pharaohs. A realistic description was provided by Strabo in the Roman Geographer Strabo in the second century CE: “The Aethiopians (or the Kushites) live on millet and barley, from which they also make a drink; but instead of olive-oil they have butter and tallow. Neither do they have fruit trees, except a few date-palms in the royal gardens.” (Strabo xvii Ch. 2: 2).6 ***

“In the first century CE, a Roman geographer wrote that the Nubians, “use meats, blood, milk, and cheese”(Strabo xvii Ch. 2: 2) for food. Unlike the Egyptians and beside agriculture, the Nubians heavily domesticate cattle and sheep for their food and other sources. Extensive left over of sheep bones were found at the offering chapels and temple kitchens in Kerma.7 Cattle were also sacrificed in great numbers in the Kerma graves, indicating the importance of their presence in the Nubian life. ***

“One prominent diet was ostrich eggs. An ostrich egg was found in almost every grave at Kerma. Fruits may have included oranges and grape-fruits which are extensively grown in Sudan today. Pigs may have been eaten in limited amounts. .” ***

Tiger Nuts

Joanna Linsley-Poe wrote: “Tiger nuts are the edible tubers (also sometimes called fruits or grains), found at the end of the root system of Cyperus grass (Cyperus esculentus L.). A member of the sedge family, along with its better-known cousin, papyrus, Cyperus Grass grows in marshy areas such as the Delta region (in ancient times) or well irrigated areas. These tiger nuts, called Hab’el aziz in Arabic were a great source of nutrition in Egypt since at least the 5th millennium B.C. According to Tackholm, V. and Drar, M. in Flora of Egypt, vol II, first published in 1950 and again in 1973, it was believed by them to be the most ancient of foods found in Egypt after Emmer and Barley. Illustrations of Cyperus Grass are found in many tombs and it was even discovered in the stomachs of pre-dynastic mummies by F. Netolitzki, in The Ancient Egyptians and their influence on the Civilization of Europe by G. Elloit-Smith. Specimens from many sites in Egypt can be found at the Agricultural Museum of Dokki, in Cairo. [Source: Bu Joanna Linsley-Poe,, March 23, 2012 ~|~]

“There is a great deal of debate among Egyptologists as to the ancient name assigned to this plant. Gywis the name it is normally given however the Ebers papyrus speaks of a medicine it calls “ grains of mnwh also called snw-t” Mnwh is the plural form of mnh, papyrus or sedge, such as Cyperus. Greek scholars, Theophrastus and Pliny associated the name of several different plants with C. esculentus (or tiger nuts). Malinathalle was one of the plants mentioned by Theophrastus as being boiled in barley beer and then eaten as a sweetmeat. This sounds similar to the above recipe except a bit more intoxicating. ~|~

“The Ancient Egyptians also used this plant for medical purposes. They prescribed the plant in mixtures for everything from; mouth chews, enemata, dressings, ointments, to fumigations, designed to sweeten the smells of the house or clothes. In the latter form it was used with myrrh. When you consider that the Ancient Egyptians ate this plant as well as using it in their medicines (as they did with so many of the plants that grew naturally or which were cultivated). They certainly got the full value of all that the Nile had to offer them. ~|~

“According to Darby in Food The Gift of Osiris, C. esculentus continues to be cultivated to this day in Egypt (most likely in the Delta region). Beyond Egypt the Arabs carried it to North Africa, Sicily and Spain. Called Chufa in Spain it is made into a popular drink. In Egypt the tuber is ground and used in breads in addition to producing oil used in ointments and cosmetics. Finally the residue is used as fodder for animals. ~|~

“The tubers are edible, with a slightly sweet, nutty flavour, compared to the more bitter-tasting tuber of the related Cyperus rotundus (purple nutsedge). They are quite hard, and are generally soaked in water before they can be eaten, thus making them much softer and giving them a better texture. They have various uses; in particular, they are used in Spain to make horchata. They are sometimes known by their Spanish name, chufa. ~|~

“Tigernuts have excellent nutritional qualities, with a fat composition similar to olives and a rich mineral content, especially phosphorus and potassium. The oil of the tuber was found to contain 18 percent saturated (palmitic acid and stearic acid) and 82 percent unsaturated (oleic acid and linoleic acid) fatty acids. Today besides human use in drinks and baked goods, Chufa(tiger nuts), are used as fish bate and food for wild turkeys, ducks, deer and hogs-who could imagine. Such an ancient plant it is known in addition to the name tiger nut, as earth chestnut, earth almond, yellow nut grass, ground almond and rush nut. The plant is cultivated today in China, Spain and West Africa and the U.S.” ~|~

Recipe for Tiger Nut Sweets

Bu Joanna Linsley-Poe wrote: “Tiger nut Sweets: Grind a quantity of tiger nuts in a mortar. Sift the flour carefully. To the ground tiger nuts add a bowl of honey and mix to a dough. Transfer the dough to a shallow metal (?) vessel. Place on top of the fire and add a little fat. Boil over a gentle fire until a firm paste is obtained. It must smell roasted not burnt. Cool and shape into tall conical loaves. [Source: Bu Joanna Linsley-Poe, Ancientfoods, March 23, 2012]

According to An Ancient Egyptian Herbal by Lise Manniche, the loaves from the above recipe were made as a special offering instituted by the king for every feast anew (or alike). This recipe was on the tomb walls of Rekhmire, vizier of Pharaoh Thutmose III (Eighteenth Dynasty) from the fifth century B.C. Ms. Manniche’s translation comes from pictures on the tomb walls themselves.

These loaves called Shat were a highly valued temple offering.Egyptian Food and Drink by Hilary Wilson also cites the bakery scene in Rekhmire’s tomb as showing the stages of preparation of triangle loaves, also made with ground tiger nuts and sweetened with dates and honey.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato,; Mark Millmore,; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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