Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Flat round pita breads on plates - Early African food

Early African food: Wheat bread

African food before farming

Before people started farming, African hunters and gatherers ate mainly fruit (especially figs), with some meat and fish and seafood and eggs. Along the coasts, Africans also fished and gathered shellfish.

Early African history
Where do figs come from?
History of fishing
All our Africa articles

What did African people eat?

They harvested wild grain and nuts to eat, and gathered honey. They got a lot of their fat from nuts, groundnuts, and palm oil. By 7000 BC, people in North Africa also began herding local cattle. People milked the cows and made yogurt and cheese.

History of honey
What is palm oil for?
Medieval African food
All our Africa articles

Teff, millet, barley and beer

Around 6000 BC, as the climate changed and the Sahara Desert gradually took over the grasslands, it got harder to get food and so some African people began to farm some of their food. By 4000 BC, people in Ethiopia, and Eretria had domesticated a grain called teff, and in Sudan people had domesticated millet and sorghum. Millet is a lot like barley and could also be made into bread or mush (like a thick oatmeal). People in West Africa also gradually domesticated local millet and other grasses.

History of millet
What is sorghum?
Beginning of farming

In North Africa and Egypt, people farmed millet too, but also, the wheat and barley, lentils and chickpeas that had already been domesticated in West Asia. So these people began to eat mainly pita bread and porridge and barley soups, like the people of West Asia. People in Egypt also made their barley into beer.

History of barley
What about chickpeas?
When did people start to drink beer?

Raw millet grains

Raw millet grains

Sheep and goats

Around the same time, African people also got sheep and goats and pigs from West Asia. Some people kept sheep and goats and cattle, and others were farmers. The shepherds traded their meat and cheese to the farmers for bread and beer.

History of sheep
Where did cattle come from?
What about pigs?

Chicken replaces pork

Sometime around 1500 BC, during the Egyptian New Kingdom, people in Egypt started to eat chicken. Around the same time, rich people stopped eating pork, which became taboo (forbidden) for them.

History of chicken

Cooked millet - brown balls in a silver dish - Early African food

African food: Cooked millet

Yams before they're cooked: like a sweet potato but with a thicker, browner skin

African food: Yams before they’re cooked

West African yams

In the rain forests south of the Sudan, you couldn’t grow any kind of grasses, because it was too wet and jungly.

More about Eto
What is Aloco?

Here people began to farm root vegetables, especially yams, and so they lived mainly on yams and a lot of dried fish. One kind of food cooked with yams was eto. But people still also kept eating all the foods they had eaten before they started farming: figs and honey, groundnuts, palm oil, and fish.

Cooked yams: orange meaty slices: African food

Cooked yams

Food in ancient Egypt
Food in medieval Africa

Bibliography and further reading about African food:

Food and Recipes of Africa (Kids in the Kitchen.) by Theresa M. Beatty
The People of Africa and Their Food (Multicultural Cookbooks) by Ann Burckhardt

A Taste of West Africa (Food Around the World) by Colin Harris

African Food
Africa Crafts and Projects
Ancient Egyptian Food
Islamic Food
Indian Food
Ancient Africa home