Cooking and Entertaining

History of Ancient Cooking

depiction of a royal bakery in ancient Egypt

Since the discovery of fire during the prehistoric era, humans have created many different ways of utilizing it for cooking, and these were quickly evolving throughout history into many different techniques. Some of the most important cooking methods were created during the time of the ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians, and without their inventions, most of the styles of cooking that we use today may not even exist.

To learn what these essential cooking methods are that were developed during the said era, here is a brief history of cooking during ancient times.

Cooking in Mesopotamia

The Mesopotamian civilization brought the most significant change in the human diet through agriculture. It is important to note that humans during the Paleolithic era were predominantly hunter-gatherers, which means that they hunt for food and gather edible plants near their tribe’s village. As hunting became a dangerous task for most humans, they began creating ways of getting food without being wounded or killed by animals.

It was in 9000 BC when the people of Mesopotamia have started cultivating plants and domesticating animals, thus implementing agriculture in their civilization. About 6000 years after the creation of agriculture in their land, they began planting grains like wheat and barley, and they have also begun domesticating plants that they have once gathered likes turnips, radishes, and onions.

Animals that they have hunted before have become domesticated, and these animals include cattle, ducks, and sheep. However, hunting was still prominent in several areas of Mesopotamia, and they favor eating fish, deer, and wild pigs instead of domesticated animals.

Some methods of preserving food were also invented during this period, such as smoking and drying meats to eliminate moisture, which is where bacteria that cause food to rot usually live. In addition, they have also carried over several cooking techniques developed during the Paleolithic era like boiling and roasting, but they have improved upon these methods by creating new cookware such as cauldrons and pots.

Cooking in Ancient Egypt

beer being drank by an Egyptian mercenary

While researchers and historians suggest that the method of baking using an oven was created by ancient Croatians 6500 years ago, it was not until the time of the ancient Egyptians starting from 3000 BC that baking bread using yeast was invented. Egyptians first used yeast to brew beer, but when they found out that the microorganisms caused the bread dough to become bigger, they have decided to utilize it for baking.

Ancient Egyptians began domesticating more animals, and these include pigs and fish. Hunting started to become obsolete during this period, as humans no longer have to hunt for food since meat is already provided by the animals that they domesticated. However, hunting is still prevalent in some parts of Egypt were farming cannot be done, and the people living there usually hunt for birds.

Besides domesticating animals for food, ancient Egyptians also domesticated dogs and cats to serve as their pets. Pet dogs were primarily used for hunting, while pet cats usually stay at home as it is believed that they are magical creatures that have a connection to the gods and can also bring good luck to the people living in the house.

Interestingly, ancient Egyptians consider cows as sacred animals, and as such, they were not allowed to eat them, and they should only be utilized as beasts of burden. Male oxen were usually the ones who are sacrificed to appease the gods during rituals. However, historians have recently found hundreds of cow bones at a location where the workers of the pyramids in Giza once built a village, suggesting that the nobles gave beef as food for the working class when they have no more food to offer.

Foie gras, a food product that is considered a delicacy today, were invented by ancient Egyptians when they domesticated geese and ducks starting from 2500 BC.

Social hierarchy in food became prominent during the time of the ancient Egyptians, as nobles would often eat stews with many ingredients and are made using elaborate cooking methods, while peasants and those who belong to the lower class would be stuck with eating bread, fruits, and vegetables. The lower class Egyptians would only be able to eat meat from pigs during special occasions due to the meat’s expensiveness in the market. In addition, the most common vegetables that peasants eat were garlic and scallions.

Cheese was also a popular food item during that period, but only the nobles and the rich people were able to afford it. Originating from the Middle East, it is believed that cheese eventually came to Egypt in 3000 BC, as evidenced by two alabaster jars that were made during the first dynasty of Egypt and were discovered by researchers at Saqqara.

Who would have thought that several cooking methods and recipes created during ancient times were still being used today? This goes to show how crucial these developments are for humans in terms of cooking, and utilizing these cooking techniques in the present also allows us to preserve a few pieces of our history.

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