The ancient Arabs and the food they ate are a source of fascination for modern people for a number of reasons. Primarily, this area of the world is where two of the first agricultural civilizations emerged: Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. Archaeologists have found evidence of humans becoming more sedentary and living in permanent housing in Arab lands as far back as 10,000 years ago in what is known as the Neolithic Era. Along the way, historians have been able to work with archaeologists to tell us about ancient Arabic foods.
New World vs. Old World Crops
In the Middle East, few can imagine Arab cuisine without chili peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. However, these are New World crops that were brought to the Old World by Christopher Columbus and other explorers after 1492. Other New World crops that are found in modern Arabic-speaking countries are tobacco, sunflower seeds, pumpkins, lima beans, cassava and corn.
First Arab Agriculture
Around 10,000 years ago, agriculture blossomed near the Persian Gulf and Ancient Egypt. The first crops planted in Egypt were wheat-like grains called "emmer." In Mesopotamia, those first wheat crop ancestors are called "einkorn." Emmer and einkorn were tougher, but sweet, versions of modern wheat. Both areas grew legumes that are still used today such as bittervetch, lentils and chickpeas. Animals such as goats and camels were domesticated for their meat and milk.
Earliest Evidence of Ancient Arab Cuisine
It is difficult to find archaeological evidence of dishes or cuisine of ancient Neolithic Arabs. The first mention of cuisine in written text is from 3,500 years ago when Deuteronomy was recorded. Foods and plants that occurred naturally in the Israeli region Deuteronomy describes were dates, honey, pomegranates, sesame seeds, fenugreek, figs, pistachios, walnuts, wheat, millet, barley broad beans, grapes, olives, cucumbers, onions, garlic, leeks, watermelons and muskmelons. According to the book "Daily Life in Biblical Times," Israeli people living around 3,500 years ago made beer, bread, and meats cooked with grains into a soup-like porridge, stew or gruel. Spices including dill, marjoram, mint and cumin were available to Israelis living in during that time.
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- Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images