A brief walk into an ancient Babylonian market between 1894 and 539 B.C. could provide a lot of fascinating information regarding the daily lives of the Mesopotamian kingdom's inhabitants, including their dining habits. Although one could marvel at the availability of accessories and attire, food staples also were plentiful, including fresh produce, cow- and goat-milk cheese and warm bread.
Some of the many vegetables that ancient Babylonians regularly consumed were peas, lettuces, beans, cucumbers, cabbage, turnips, chickpeas, garlic, shallots, cress, leeks, lentils and beets. The ancient Babylonians regularly ate fresh vegetables in two ways, either boiled or raw. Fresh vegetables -- and fruits -- were often savored with unleavened bread, too. Vegetables such as lentils and onions often were primary components in many soups. Other typical components in thick Mesopotamian soups were honey, mutton fat and the juices of meats. Carrots were commonly grown in Babylonia, but for their fragrant leaves instead of their edible roots.
Various fruits were also big components of the ancient Babylonian diet. Some of their preferred fruits included pears, apples, pomegranates, mulberries, quinces, melons, figs, peaches, grapes, dates, plums, cherries and apricots. Dates were especially beloved by the ancient Babylonians -- and also were a valuable means of obtaining sugar. It wasn't uncommon for the Babylonians to pickle fruits and vegetables either, specifically apples, cucumbers, melons, peaches, pears and apricots. The need to pickle produce was a reaction to the region's extremely hot weather.
Salads were a typical dish for ancient Babylonians. The salads often included ingredients such as beans, lentils and pears. The Babylonians created vinegar-based "dressings" for their salads using elements such as sesame oil, pepper, salt and various herbs. Some of the herbs often used in salad preparation were saffron, mint and tarragon. Saffron was a particularly beloved dressing herb.
Meat in the Diet
Ancient Babylonians undoubtedly ate lots of fresh vegetables, fruits and bread, but meat was also an important part of their menus. They typically ate beef and pork, as well as the flesh of both sheep and goats.
As the forefathers of the Babylonians, the Sumerian peoples also consumed diets chockfull of vegetables and fruits. Some of the vegetables frequently grown and eaten in Sumer were leeks, watercress, turnips, chickpeas, cucumbers, lentils, garlic, onions and mustard. Fresh vegetables were common side dishes for the Sumerians, particularly for lunch. Wealthier Sumerians consumed broader diets than individuals from lower classes. The Sumerian era lasted roughly between 4000 and 1700 B.C.
- Assyrian International News Agency: Everyday Life in Babylonia and Assyria
- Ancient Mesopotamia/India; Social Studies School Service
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- The Prokaryotes -- A Handbook on the Biology of Bacteria; Stanley Falkow, Eugene Rosenberg and Erko Stackebrandt
- 75 Exciting Vegetables for Your Garden; Jack Staub
- Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia; Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat
- Living in Ancient Mesopotamia; Norman Bancroft Hunt
- Adventures on Ancient Continents; Cecelia Frances Page
- Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia; Stephen Bertman
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