The Charger Blog

Nutrition Sciences Major Discusses Modern Connection to Ancient Foods

Beatrice Glaviano ’26 explains what Ancient Egyptians ate and how their diet is still relevant today, offering a serving of history and a few recipe ideas.

April 4, 2024

By Beatrice Glaviano ’26

Beatrice Glaviano ’26, a nutrition sciences major at the University of New Haven.
Beatrice Glaviano ’26, a nutrition sciences major at the University of New Haven.

To preface this article: I have been awake for twenty-four hours and I refuse to nap. Why?

[In a horrible Batman voice]: “I’m Batman.”

Because I need to branch out of Gotham a little bit, I decided on working in a city named “Meriden” – a few of you may be familiar with this geographical location – with some super cool EMTs and Paramedics over at Hunters Ambulance.

But that’s a story for a different article. This is just me telling you that if there are weird typos, extra nerdiness with a side of ketchup and your choice of fries, or really, really horrible grammar mistakes, that would be why.

I’m also surprised how I’m still awake with only one cup of coffee.

Something that I’ve been really getting back into recently has been ancient civilizations. Granted, there was no ancient version of EMS (I’d imagine Apollo as this try-hard paramedic would be a disaster and blessing all the same), but there were some medical persons like doctors or medicine men. Despite the ever-looming threat of illness, famine, and death in ancient civilizations, their people found ways to find joy in their lives through something incredibly simple:

Food and Culture.

The culture of ancient Egypt – of which I will forever argue had a better, more established democracy and social hierarchy than any other civilization (though this is not to excuse Egyptian cruelty) – is truly something beautiful to look at from the future. When you realize how long murals took, the effort and intricateness taken for each and every hieroglyph in order for them to weave together and tell a story, the importance of family, the remembrance and respect for those who passed. There is such beauty in this ancient world that I have always admired, and I’d like to share that little passion with you.

From a more scientific, modern-day standpoint, I’ve always considered that the human body has always been tied to ancient foods. No, I’m not saying pop tarts or burgers are bad (as I will absolutely destroy a Maggie McFly’s Garbage Burger in .02 seconds), but our bodies are still catching up with us evolutionarily speaking.

In simpler terms:

  • Brain → Constantly learning, growing, and consequent adaptation → quick physiological evolution
  • Body → Constantly learning, growing, and consequent adaptation because of the brain → slow morphological evolution

So, if the body stays relatively constant, what foods was it previously accustomed to prior to modern day foods? Obviously, there are quite a lot of ancient cultures.

After doing some basic research, the diet of the ancient Egyptians was rather simplistic in nature, and mostly vegetarian-based. What was more curious was the fact that sourdough was used in order to produce leavened bread (pg. 40, Flandrin et. al). That beautifully risen, tangy bread? Yeah, pharaohs alike ate it too, probably with some honey on top of it. Honey, actually, was fairly big in Egypt. It was harvested in the delta, “whose vast stretches of fertile land offered an ideal environment for bees and bee-keeping” (pg. 42, Flandrin et. al). This only brings me to wonder about how the honey tasted. I imagine it would be a lot denser and sweeter in taste, given how rich the land was in that area. Would honey made from the pollen of lotus flowers (whose bulbs were also eaten, interestingly enough) taste lighter or darker? Fruits were also common: figs, persea fruit, dates, jujubes, and a type of palm coconut called “dum” could make any meal all the sweeter.

In terms of more solid foods, legumes (lupines, chickpeas, broad beans, lentils) were also a solid aspect of the Egyptian diet, although this group was introduced alongside the establishment of the New Kingdom (c. 1570- c.1069 BCE). When it came to proteins, it was supplied through dairy, meat, and fish products (pg. 41, Flandrin et. al). Livestock such as cows – which were often sacrificed during rituals or holy events of the year – were kept, but sheep, goats, and pigs were also kept on farmlands. Curiously, the blood of cattle who had been sacrificed was collected and later used to make a type of blood sausage (pg. 41, Flandrin et. al). Of course, fowl such as geese, ducks, quail, pigeons, and pelicans (the last one is a little weird; I’m not sure if I’d eat a pelican to be honest) were also enjoyed by the Egyptians, though chickens weren’t introduced until the late Roman period.

Obviously, literature and archaeologist-discovered paintings and illustrations of the Nile that have been indicative of its vast resources. The Nile is the massive river of Egypt, starting from the delta and flowing a whopping four thousand, one hundred and forty-two miles. This river was Egypt’s life force; without it, almost nothing would prosper. It supplied the Egyptians with fish such as mullet, tilapia, catfish, barbi, and eels (pg. 42, Flandrin et. al), but it also provided them a method of travel and the ability to create paper, seeing as papyrus often grew in bulk along its banks. Fish was common among the rich and the poor, and the Nile was chock-full of it.

Now, assembling this all together: what were the meals of ancient Egypt, and when were they eaten?

Most Egyptians ate two main meals a day, with breakfast being mostly bread and beer while dinner was more banquet-styled and served with groupings of carbs, proteins, and fats. Additionally, banquets were fun! They would be lively, with music playing and stories being told all around. While I couldn’t find any examples of ancient Egyptian classic meals, here are a few recipes of modern ones!

Egyptian Breakfast Recipes:

  • Ful Medames
    • Fava beans, pita, fresh vegetables, and your choice of topping
  • Shakshuka
    • Freshly poached eggs are perched in a tomato-based sauce paired with vegetables
  • Falafel (Taameya)
    • Fried balls of mashed chickpeas, herbs, and spices that are commonly served alongside a healthy portion of tahini and freshly baked pita

Egyptian Entree Recipes:

  • Koshari
    • Rice, macaroni, lentils, chickpeas, tomato sauce, and fried onions
  • Hawawshi
    • Spiced, minced meat wrapped up in a beautifully crisp pita
  • Egyptian Feteer meshaltet
    • Crisp pastry enjoyed with honey, cheese, or other sweeteners; common among all meals

Frankly, I will be heavily biased towards everyone making (or at least trying) falafel. I love falafel. It’s the backbone of so many good memories with my mom, and on campus (shoutout to Taste of Grill for knocking the culinary pants off of everyone). On that note, I would encourage everyone to branch out into the tastes of other cultures. I love Mediterranean foods because of my own cultural background, but the Middle East has some absolute bangers out there, alongside the many cultures of India, Asia, and Europe. I know that trying new foods can be a little funky. My dad has definitely made me question my lunch decisions before, and he has promptly scared my mom from ever trying ramen as he cracked an egg into her soup, exclaiming “PROTEIN!” that one time.

Yeah. Egg is protein, Dad, but it may not belong in chicken noodle soup, my man. Or lasagna.

That’s a whole other story.

Regardless, I hope that everyone has found appreciation in this article and, perhaps, a reason to try the foods of cultures that they’ve never or seldom tried. History has always been something I’ve been interested in, and while I don’t major in it, there is no need to ignore it or not learn with it. To be cultured is to understand cultures, and you can’t do that without at least glimpsing at the past.

I hope everyone walks this week with a lighter foot knowing that warmth is on the way. I love you all very much, and please take some time to take care of yourselves this week. God knows I owe myself an onslaught of naps and snacks.

With peace, love, and peanut butter,

Beatrice Glaviano ’26 is a nutrition sciences major at the University of New Haven.