Ancient Egyptian Food – Eating and drinking in ancient Egypt

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Egyptian bread - yellow lump with holes in it: Ancient Egyptian food

Ancient Egyptian food: Actual bread from Egypt’s New Kingdom (Vatican Museum, Rome)

Ancient Egyptian food: from both Africa and West Asia

Because Egypt is in Africa, but very close to West Asia, what people ate in ancient Egypt was midway between African and West Asian food. Wheat, barley, and olive oil all originally came from West Asia.

(More about the history of barley)

Those foods gave Egyptians most of their calories, but Egyptians also ate figs, palm oil, millet and some sorghum, which are originally African.

(More about the history of sorghum)

Egyptian models of clay beer jars

Ancient Egyptian models of clay beer jars (Louvre Museum, Paris)

Bread and beer

Egyptian bakers used both wheat and barley to make bread and soup and porridge (like oatmeal). They also fermented barley to make beer.

(More about the history of beer)

Very likely the Egyptians first started growing grain in order to make beer. They only later figured out that you could make bread with it too.

In ancient Egypt, bakeries were often around the back of breweries, so they could share the yeast. This is an Egyptian model of beer jars:  Egyptians put these models in your grave when you died so you would have beer in the next world.

Did ancient Egyptians eat falafel?

round brown fried balls, with one broken open to show a lighter brown inside flecked with green herbs

Ancient Egyptian food: Balls of falafel, fried into deliciousness!

Nobody knows when exactly people started to eat falafel, but it probably started in Egypt, and very long ago. Falafel is a very fuel-efficient way to cook beans. Normally, boiling beans requires a long time – hours – and a lot of fuel to keep the fire going so long.

But if you soak raw beans in water for a day, and then crush the soaked beans into small bits using a grindstone, then you can make them into little patties like burgers and fry them quickly over a small fire. A little charcoal brazier will do it. Now you have a delicious, quick meal, with plenty of protein, and cheap too!

Egyptians ate mainly fava beans, but also chickpeas and lentils. You can make falafel out of any kind of beans. If you cook chickpeas and mash them with crushed sesame seeds, then you have hummus, which is also delicious with falafel and pita bread!

Vegetables in ancient Egypt

Onions, leeks, and garlic were very popular in ancient Egypt. People also ate a lot of cabbage, kale and chard. They had lettuce and raw radishes for their salads, and boiled turnips and parsnips in their soup. Ancient Egyptians ate green peas, but not so much fresh as dried like for split pea soup. They also ate cucumbers, which came originally from India, and artichokes, which were local. They ate celery, and probably celery root.

Egyptian painting of a fisherman diving to get his fishing net

Fisherman diving for his net (Grave of D2rj, Thebes, Egypt, ca. 2000 BC)

Fish from the Nile River

Egyptian food also included a lot of fish. People in Egypt ate a lot of fish from the Nile River, like tilapia and perch. They also went fishing in boats, in the Mediterranean Sea, for larger fish like tuna. They ate fish fresh, and also preserved. They made fermented fish sauces (kind of like ketchup) and dried fish and salted fish.

(More about the history of fishing)

Egyptian Model of a butcher shop showing cuts of meat laid out in a courtyard

Ancient Egyptian model of a butcher shop (from the Louvre, Paris, France)

Lamb and beef

Egyptian food didn’t include a lot of meat. But when Egyptians did eat meat, a lot of it came from animals that had been domesticated further north in West Asia or Central Asia: mostly beef and lamb.

(More about the history of cows)

You could go to a butcher shop and buy lamb there, just as people do today, or a duck or goose. Only because it rarely rains in Egypt, they could have the meat outside in the courtyard of the store instead of inside. Here is a model of a butcher shop, also from somebody’s grave. Can you see the different cuts of meat all laid out? At the very bottom there is a whole leg of mutton.

Egyptians stop eating pork

In the Old Kingdom, they ate pork, too. From the New Kingdom on, though, most rich people in Egypt would not eat pork, because they thought pigs were dirty and yucky (Poor people still ate pork though).

(More about the history of pigs)

– and start to eat chicken

To replace the pork fat in their cooking, Egyptians invented foie gras. Then about 300 BC, when Greek kings were ruling Egypt, Egyptians started to eat a lot of chicken and eggs. The Egyptians got chickens from the Persians in Iran.

(More about the history of chickens)

Egyptian scientists figured out a way to use artificial incubators to make chicken cheap enough to be affordable. Then they could raise a lot of chickens to eat, without having to feed a lot of hens to sit on the eggs.

Doum palm fruits - Ancient Egyptian food

Doum palm fruits from Ancient Egypt (now in the Louvre, in Paris)

Palm oil, watermelon, and other African foods

But people in Egypt ate African food, too. They used palm oil for some recipes. Egyptians grew watermelons – native to Africa, and one of the earliest things people farmed – and other kinds of melon.

What did Egyptian people eat for dessert?

Egyptian bee-keeping, 5th Dynasty (Temple of Pharaoh Niuserre at Abu Gorab, ca. 2400 BC)

Egyptian bee-keeping, 5th Dynasty (Temple of Pharaoh Niuserre at Abu Gorab, ca. 2400 BC)

For dessert, they liked to eat dates and figs. Egyptian food also included sweet bread with honey. Ancient Egypt is probably the first place where people kept bees instead of going out and looking for honey in wild beehives.

By about 2400 BC, Egyptian beekeepers were using clay pots as beehives and collecting honey from there. Hundreds of enslaved Egyptians worked on huge honey farms with thousands of beehives. That made honey cheap enough so most people could have it when they wanted it.

(More about the history of honey)

People liked to eat fruit too. Mostly they ate doum palm fruits, dates, and figs. But by the New Kingdom there were also a few apple trees in Egypt.

(More about the history of apples)

Above, there is a picture of some real doum palm fruits which were put into somebody’s grave; they were traditional funeral offerings in ancient Egypt. The dry climate preserved them for three thousand years until archaeologists dug them up again.

Do you need a second source to cite? Check out this article; it’s pretty good.

Learn by doing – A project with figs
More about the history of beer
Cooking an Egyptian meal
Go on to medieval Islamic food

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Egyptian food:

More about African Food
More about West Asian Food
Other articles about ancient Egypt
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By |2018-09-17T06:30:01+00:00June 14th, 2017|Africa, Egypt, Food|8 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Ancient Egyptian Food – Eating and drinking in ancient Egypt. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 14, 2017. Web. September 18, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

8 Comments

  1. someone anonymous May 18, 2018 at 11:27 am - Reply

    this was not helpful

    • Karen Carr May 18, 2018 at 12:32 pm

      Sorry to hear it! What were you trying to find out? I’d be happy to help.

  2. bob March 30, 2018 at 7:16 am - Reply

    the beer is in a weird container

    • Karen Carr March 30, 2018 at 7:43 pm

      They’re just big clay jars.

  3. KoKoKoKoji January 18, 2018 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    This isn’t what I’m looking for 🙁

    I’m trying to find North African native flora. Does anyone have any suggestions to what website I should go to?

  4. jeff January 10, 2018 at 11:40 am - Reply

    its gross

    • Karen Carr January 10, 2018 at 12:57 pm

      Well, naturally bread and fruit that’s 3000 years old doesn’t look so great! But most of what ancient Egyptian people ate would seem pretty normal today – it’s just falafel (without the tomatoes), or bread and cheese and fruit, or barley-vegetable soup.

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