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Mesopotamia: Food & Drink

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  • 0:04 A Barley-Based Diet
  • 0:30 Bread
  • 1:24 Dairy, Soup & Veggies
  • 2:14 Fruit & Meat
  • 3:20 Beverages
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Step back in culinary time as we take a look at ancient Mesopotamian food and drink. You'll note that some of the diet is similar to yours, but other things may be anything but.

A Barley-Based Diet

If the Atkin's diet is mainly based on meat, then we can equally say that the ancient Mesopotamian diet was largely based on barley, a type of cereal grain. That's not to say that that's all the people of ancient Mesopotamia ate, not at all. But barley-based food was the cornerstone of their diet.

Let's learn about many of the different kinds of foods a person in ancient Mesopotamia would've consumed, many of which you may eat yourself!

Bread

To learn about this diet we're going to meet Shulgi, an ancient Mesopotamian man. He tells us that barley is used to make two staple foods in ancient Mesopotamia, that of bread and beer. He says that in his time, barley was ground with millstones to produce flour, which was then mixed with water to make bread. Other grains like rye, millet, and even rice were used to make bread as well.

If Shulgi wanted to splurge a bit on a specialty bread, he would buy bread mixed with various fats, like sesame seed oil, fish oil, or just plain lard. However, he lets us in on a dirty little secret: a lot of this fat would go rancid, so the bakers would mix in other things to mask the bad taste of the oily bread, which would easily spoil in the heat of ancient Mesopotamia.

Some breads would also contain things like milk, honey, fruit, or fruit juices. A lot of these higher quality breads would be reserved for royalty as they were expensive.

Dairy, Soup & Veggies

Of course, Shulgi's diet wasn't limited to chowing down on bread. He tells us that he loved dairy products. Ancient Mesopotamians made butter, yogurt, and cheese. They were quite sophisticated in their manufacture of cottage, sharp, chalky, and sweet varieties of cheese.

Shulgi says he loved to put the cheese into a bowl of soup. Ancient Mesopotamians usually ate thick soups that were more a meal than appetizer. The soup would contain many of the things we'd find in our soups today like onions, beans, meat broth, chickpeas, and lentils. If he really wanted to, Shulgi could add in some leeks, shallot, and garlic as that was available to him as well.

Shulgi also ate quite a few different vegetables. He says he either boiled them or ate them raw. Some of his favorite vegetables are lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, beets, and cabbage.

Fruit & Meat

And, of course, we can't forget the fruits, now can we? Shulgi says that his homeland was full of fruits. People like him ate grapes, figs, plums, apricots, apples, pears, cherries, melons, and pomegranates. They also ate nuts like pistachios. Yum! On the note of fruits, Shulgi says he didn't consume sugar. Instead, his people used fruit juices or date juice to sweeten things if they wanted to. While honey was available, much of it was imported and thus very expensive.

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