Even though Ancient Egypt was covered by four major deserts and two smaller ones, the Nile River passing through the middle of the country provided the water necessary for ancient farmers to irrigate their crops. Each year, the river would flood, covering the land with a thick layer of fertile soil.
Hieroglyphs picture the crops of Ancient Egypt. The most important grain was spelt, an ancient form of wheat. Both spelt and barley were grown, ground, and baked into bread, which was eaten by all classes of Egyptians. The barley was also used to brew beer, which was safer to drink than the unpurified water of the Nile.
Orchards and vineyards were planted with pomegranates, grapes, and plums. The fruit was eaten in a variety of ways and used in the production of wine. Figs, dates, and melons were prepared as sweet treats.
The Ancient Egyptians only ate a small amount of meat. Wealthy aristocrats enjoyed beef, mutton, goat, and a wide variety of fish. The lower classes occasionally dined on poultry or fish. To preserve their meat, they salted and dried the flesh of the animals. Often, the meat was seasoned with cumin, fennel, dill, or coriander.
A wide variety of vegetables were served. Beans, turnips, lettuce, cabbage, onions, and garlic appear to have been favorites. Cucumbers are mentioned in ancient writings, as are melons. The dry heat of the area made the large juicy fruits and vegetables very popular with the people.
Hieroglyphics depict men and women eating separately. Diners were settled at the table according to class, with the most important near the head of the table. Often, the lowest classes were forced to eat on the floor. At large dinners, pots of stew, made with meat and vegetables, and loaves of bread were passed around the room.
Honey was very important to the Ancient Egyptians. Used as both a sweetener and as a preservative, this all-important food source was cherished by kings. Honey boasts such a long shelf life that today, edible honey has been unearthed from the pyramids, where it sat for thousands of years.
Located between Africa and Asia, the people of Ancient Egypt were influenced by traders passing through the country. Spices and other food products found their way into the Egyptian diet via these traders. Black pepper found its way to Egypt from India and became one of the common seasonings used in the preparation of Egyptian dishes.