For the Foodies and History-Lovers Alike: These are the World’s Oldest Dishes

Instructions were found on an ancient Babylonian tablet from the Mesopotamian region (what is today known as the regions of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey) that detailed how to make a type of lamb stew. But those instructions read more like a list of ingredients than an actual recipe. After Yale University scholars were able to translate the instructions, they found that it said this: “Meat is used. You prepare water. You add fine-grained salt, dried barley cakes, onion, Persian shallot, and milk. You crush and add leek and garlic.”

Historical recipes and modern day food lovers

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Sounds pretty simple, right? But there are definitely missing pieces. The only thing is, you can’t ask the chef to reveal the missing pieces because the recipe writer has been dead for over 4,000 years. Lamb stew is just one example of an ancient dish that’s been around for thousands of years. As it turns out, many dishes have been around for just as long, maybe even longer. If you’re curious as to which meals are the oldest in the world, then you’re in for a treat!

Roasted Barley and Herbs: Since 8000 BC

This recipe for roasted barley and herbs is likely the oldest food recipe that we know of today. It was discovered on one of the Yale Babylonian tablets. The main ingredient of this antique recipe is barley, which is a popular cereal grain that’s grown in moderate climates. It is actually one of the first-ever farmed grains that go as far back as 10,000 years ago.

Old fashioned roasted barley and herbs.

Source: Pinterest

Barley is so diverse that it is still a trusty staple of many kitchens across the world. But this ancient recipe calls for something people today simply don’t use. The tablet’s recipe wrote down the need to add two tablespoons of blood, politely adding ‘if available.’ What kind of blood and from whom? That’s unknown. We can only hope that it wasn’t human. Either way, the barley is cooked like a risotto. Yum!

Stew: Around Since 6000 BC

Stew is really just a beautiful mess of vegetables, meat or poultry, and a bunch of other ingredients, that’s cooked slowly over a gentle heat. Is anybody else’s mouth-watering? Well, the practice of simmering meat in liquids over a fire until tender and delicious dates back 7,000 to 8,000 years. And that means that stew is by far one of the world’s oldest food recipes.

Old fashioned beef stew.

Photo by Craig Lee / The New York Times

Archaeological research found that many Amazonian tribes would use the hard-exterior shells of large mollusks as a type of pot to make stew in. If you’re curious as to what an ancient Greek philosopher, Herodotus, wrote down as a stew recipe, here it is:

‘Put the flesh into an animal’s paunch, mix water with it, and boil it like that over the bone fire. The bones burn very well, and the paunch easily contains all the meat once it has been stripped off. In this way, an ox, or any other sacrificial beast, is ingeniously made to boil itself.’

Stew: Referenced in the Bible

The Old Testament is full of references to this type of food. For example, in Genesis, Esau and his brother Jacob paid the dowry that Isaac sustained when he married Rebecca by offering up a pot of meat stew. There is also more than one mention of lentil and grain-based stews.

Old fashioned stew served in a more modern fashion, in small mugs with parsley and a side of bread.

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In the 1500s, the Aztecs participated in a gruesome practice of preparing stews with human meat and chillis (also known as tlacatlaolli). But whether or not they actually ate it is up for debate. Pottage, also referred to as a thick stew of vegetables, meats, grains, and fish, has been consumed all over Europe from the Neolithic Age (about 12,000 years ago). It was mostly known as the poor man’s food due to the easy availability of the ingredients.

Nettle Pudding: Around Since 6000 BC

Nettles are edible, but they’re not really considered yummy. But hunters across Britain (in particular) say they’re great as a soup or in a risotto (but on one caveat: that they’re prepared in a way that takes out their famous sting). The oldest recipe in the United Kingdom dates back 8000 years and involves nettles as the main ingredient. And by the way, “pudding,” in this context, is used in its older sense of the word meaning savory rather than a desert-like food.

Nettle Pudding

Source: Pinterest

A nettle recipe was uncovered during a 2007 investigation by the University of Wales Institute. They labeled the recipe as the oldest in the history of Britain. It was recorded in 6000 BC, but it may actually be 2,000 years older than that. That’s one hell of a lineage for a dish that’s pretty simple. The recipe is pretty much just nettles boiled with barley and water.

Tamales: Around Since 5000 BC

Tamales are those soft packets made from masa (a type of dough) that are typically filled with fruits, meats, or vegetables. They’re a popular Mesoamerican (Central American) dish that has a long history. They were first made somewhere between 8,000 and 5,000 BC, making them one of the oldest food items in the world.

Traditional tamales stuffed with an assortment of food.

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Historically, they were steamed inside corn husks or banana leaves as portable edibles for travelers and soldiers. This was at a time when preserving food for long durations of time was really difficult. This dough-based food was served at festivals and feasts, and usually contained all kinds of fillings, like a minced rabbit, turkey, frog, fish, flamingo, eggs, fruits, beans, etc. Today, tamales are eaten across the United States, Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and even the Philippines.

Beer: From 3400 – 2900 BC

The oldest beer recipe in the world was only recently discovered. And by recipe, we mean something more like a breakdown of ingredients. This recipe was found in a beer-making facility that had been uncovered in a dig site in China. Archaeologists at the site found brewing equipment that dates back to around 3400 BC, which was very early in Chinese history.

A man pouring fresh IPA into a bottle from the fermenter.

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These archeologists sent off leftover traces from the jugs they found. The result? A very modern-looking malted mix of millet, barley, Chinese pearl barley, and tubers. There is ancient evidence of brewing from all over the world, like Iran and Egypt, but as of this point, this Chinese facility has been crowned the oldest brewery in human history. The beer makers didn’t write down their “secret formula,” but you can bet that beer companies will probably be marketing “the world’s oldest beer” soon.

Popcorn: Around Since 3600 BC

Apparently, our favorite movie snack has been around since about 3600 BC. A recent study found that people from what is now Peru were eating the snack earlier than they thought. Coastal regions were preparing corn-based foods up to 6,700 years ago, and evidence of corn as a food goes back about 5,000 years ago. Newfound corn remains revealed a lot. For example, the oldest cobs can be identified as popcorn (said scientists in Washington D.C. and Panama).

A close-up photo of popcorn popped in a pot on a four-burner stove.

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Somehow, popcorn made its way into modern society, which is likely because it’s a very cheap snack as it’s mainly made from just corn kernels. Popcorn became hugely famous during the first quarter of the 20th century and sold for just 5-10 cents a bag. Popcorn went from ancient farming experiments to become a staple of movie-watching.

Pancakes: Around Since 3300 BC

Pancakes, or flat and thin cakes made from a starchy batter and cooked on a frying pan or griddle, are enjoyed as a breakfast food all around the world. Depending on where they’re made, pancakes can be very thin and crêpe-like (France, South Africa, Belgium), made from banana or plantain (Uganda) or even made from fermented rice (South India). The history of pancakes goes way back to Otzi the Iceman, who was alive around 3,300 BC.

An older woman is making pancakes in the early 1900s.

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His (naturally-mummified) corpse, which is the oldest in all of Europe, was found in 1991 in the Italian Alps. After analyzing the body, a ton of information about the Neolithic diet was discovered. Otzi’s last meal is believed to have consisted of alpine ibex and red deer meat, and einkorn wheat pancakes. The traces of charcoal found in the 5,300-year-old man’s stomach suggest that the food was cooked over an open fire.

Pancakes: The Earliest Recipes

The ancient Greeks widely consumed pancakes, and they called them tagenias or teganites (from the word tagenon, meaning frying pan). They were cooked on a clay griddle over an open fire. The earliest mention of these pancakes is in 5th-century BC works by poets Magnes and Cratinus. Their recipes included wheat flour and olive oil and were served with curdled milk or honey.

Pancakes with some jam and a cup of tea on a wooden table.

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Then there’s the 3rd-century philosopher Athenaeus who wrote in his book Deipnosophistae about a similar food (known as statitites). They were made of spelt flour and topped with sesame, cheese or honey. Ancient Romans also enjoyed pancake-like breakfasts, which they called alia dulcia (which means “other sweets” in Latin). The first use of the word “pancake” in English is believed to have come in the 15th century.

Curry: Around Since 2600 – 2200 BC

Curry, a dish of colors, spices, and herbs, is a staple of Indian food, and it came from the Indian subcontinent. Spices used in curry are cumin, turmeric, pepper, coriander, garam masala, and others. But interestingly, curry powder is a product of the West, which was first prepared in the 18th century for British colonial officials in India.

Old fashioned curry with sausages.

Source: Pinterest

Ever since the recipe was brought over to the United Kingdom around 200 years ago, curry became one of the most recognized dishes of British culture. And etymologists believe that curry originally came from Kari, which is a word in Tamil, meaning sauce or gravy. The history of making curry goes back more than 4,000 years to the Indus Valley civilization, where they often used stone mortar and pestle to grind spices like fennel, mustard, cumin and others.

Curry: Oldest English Recipe is from 1747

Excavations at Harappa and Mohenjodaro (in Pakistan) have revealed tiny pottery pieces with traces of turmeric and ginger that belong to the period between 2600 and 2200 BC. That means curry (or even its predecessor) is one of the oldest dishes in the world. Historians pointed out that curry was often eaten with rice, which had already been cultivated in the area.

Spicy chicken curry, or masala chicken, with a large chicken leg in the middle.

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Curry has evolved through time and in different places in the world, representing many cultural influences that have changed the history of the Indian subcontinent. Just so you know, the oldest surviving curry recipe in English is in the 1747 book by Hannah Glasse called “The Art of Cookery.” And according to National Curry Week, the dish is consumed regularly by over 23 million people around the world.

Cheesecake: Around Since 2000 BC

If you have a sweet tooth, then you probably enjoy a good cheesecake as much as I do. The creamy and delicious cake usually involves a thick layer of sweetened cheese and a buttery biscuit crust. The American version requires cream cheese (which was invented in 1872), but cheesecakes were originally the brainchild of the ancient Greeks.

Old-fashioned cheesecake with chocolate drizzled on top and coffee behind it.

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They would use a simple combination of honey, flour, and soft cheese that resulted in a light and subtly flavored cake that they often served at weddings and other festivities. Archaeological digs from the last century uncovered broken pieces of cheese molds that came from 2000 BC. Some historians believe that the first-ever cheesecakes were prepared in the Samos, a Greek island that has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years.

Cheesecake: Offered to Athletes in Ancient Olympic Games

Those ancient cheesecakes in Greece were actually a dessert offered to the athletes who participated in the first Olympic games of 776 BC. In fact, the earliest written mention of the cheesecake recipe can be found in a 230 AD book by ancient Greek author Athenaeus. After the Roman defeat of Greece in 146 BC, the cheesecake recipe was taken by the Romans, who turned it into something else.

Photograph of an old-fashioned cheesecake with a cherry pie filling on top.

Source: kraft.com

The Romans made the original recipe into something even more delicious by adding eggs and crushed cheese. The baked dessert (that they called savillum) was flavored with lemon or orange zest, which is something that’s added to cheesecakes to this day. Historical records show that the oldest existing recipe can be found in the pages of Marcus Cato’s De Agri Cultura. The dessert made its way to Europe and was rumored to be one of Henry VIII’s favorite desserts.

Noodles: Around Since 2000 BC

Everyone likes to say they invented the noodle first. The Chinese, the Italians, the Arabs all want credit for the staple of the hungry college student’s dinner. But after a discovery at the Lajia archeological site by the Yellow River in China, we can pretty much put the debate to rest. The jury is in folks: the Chinese created the first-ever noodles dish. No other noodle in history comes close to the 4000-year-old noodles cache found there.

A close-up photo of a baker making noodles, currently cutting them on a small piece of wood.

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In the aftermath of an earthquake a long time ago, the Yellow River flooded, and those living along the river were doomed. In someone’s rush to get away, the unfortunate diner left his bowl of millet grass noodles on the table. According to the on-site archeologist Kam-biu Liu, “It was this unique combination of factors that created a vacuum or empty space between the top of the sediment cone and the bottom of this bowl that allowed the noodles to be preserved.” Pretty cool, huh?

Rice Pilaf: Around Since 1000 – 500 BC

Rice has a long history of being used in rich and intricate recipes. Pilaf is one ancient recipe that involves cooking rice, vegetables, and meat in a broth of different spices and herbs. The dish has different names, depending on the country, but pilaf is eaten across the Middle East, Central and South Asia, India, East Africa, and so on.

Rice pilaf with vegetables, pomegranate, and onions.

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The word “pilaf” comes from the Sanskrit word “pulaka” (meaning “ball of rice”). Rice was first domesticated in China over 13,000 years ago, and then in India, ancient Persians started farming rice as a crop between 1,000 and 500 BC. It was then that they created the first pilaf recipe, which spread over to other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Rice Pilaf: Alexander the Great’s Favorite Dish

In 328 BC, back when Alexander the Great defeated the Sogdian city of Samarkand (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), he feasted on pilaf. The recipe was then taken over to Macedonia and to different parts of Europe. Around the same time, something similar to pilaf, called pulao, popped up in India. Some of the earliest mentions of the dish are traced back to the epic text of Mahabharata (from 400 BC).

Rice pilaf served in a clay pot with bread on the platter next to it.

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There are also ancient Sanskrit scriptures like Yajnavalkya Smriti (from 3rd to 5th century AD) that mention the recipe. When Muslims came to India (as early as 7th century AD), they further enriched the ancient recipe by adding saffron and other spices. The Spanish dish paella is believed to have come from the original pilaf recipe.

Meat Pie: Around Since 1700 BC

Mmm meat pie. Did you know that this delicacy has been enjoyed for over 3,000 years? The source for the earliest recipe for meat pie comes from ancient Mesopotamian tablets that date back to 1700 BC. Those tablets were translated from ancient Assyrian by a French academic and chef named Jean Bottero in 1985. Those tablets are part of the bunch that Yale University holds, which contain recipes for stews (like we saw earlier) and this ancient pie.

Photograph of an old-fashioned meat pie.

Photo by Heath Robbins / newengland.com

The meat in those ancient recipes involve birds, but it’s not clear as to which kinds specifically.it does emphasize, however, using gizzards (a muscular organ in the digestive track) as well as the rest of the bird. It gives a new meaning to “nose-to-tail eating.”

The recipe: ‘Carefully lay out the fowls on a platter; spread over them the chopped pieces of gizzard and pluck, as well as the small sêpêtu breads which have been baked in the oven; sprinkle the whole with sauce, cover with the prepared crust and send to the table.’

Kebabs: Around Since 1600 BC

Kebabs are another ancient food that is still eaten and enjoyed today and by people across the globe. The kebab has been around for a long time, too. It originated from the medieval kitchens of Persia and Turkey, providing evidence that meat was cooked on skewers in a similar fashion dating back to 17th century BC.

Photograph of a spicy Turkish kebab.

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Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq, the author of the first Arabic cookbook, mentioned kebab and described it as cut up meat grilled over a fire. And to this day, kebab is found on street corners and fancy restaurants alike. And they don’t have to be beef or pork. In Bengal, for instance, they prefer mutton or chicken, whereas Greeks prefer its ‘Gyro’ (so yummy) cut into little strips and rolled into a pita.

Oldest Bottle of Wine: Around Since 325 AD

You can probably still drink the world’s oldest bottle of wine, but it won’t taste any good. For the last hundred years, the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Germany held the world’s oldest unopened bottle of wine – the Speyer bottle. But a century is nothing compared to the actual age of the wine, which murky contents sat inside a clear glass bottle for 1,693 years.

Photograph of the oldest bottle of wine on display in a museum.

Source: Wikipedia

When the ancient Romans died, they liked to be buried in style. And when they died, they wanted to be buried with style. And that’s why a bottle of their wine reached our modern world. The 1.5-liter wine bottle, with handles shaped like dolphins, was buried in the tomb of a Roman nobleman and noblewoman near the city of Speyer. Researchers say that it dates to 325 AD (or CE). When the tomb was dug out in 1867, other wine bottles were discovered but were they were shattered or empty.

Roman Wine: Put in Coffins

So how did the wine not dry up? This Speyer bottle stayed wet because of the olive oil they used (instead of cork) to protect the wine from oxidizing. Clearly, it did the job really well. So what was the result of wine that’s aged 1600 years? The contents are waxy and muddy, and it won’t get your drunk since the alcohol content is long gone. It will make you violently sick, though.

Roman and Greek wine and oil amphoras.

Photo by Sandra Alvarez / karwansaraypublishers.com

The wine in the Speyer bottle was likely made from local grapes that had been planted during the Roman rule. Unknown herbs were added, which were probably for flavor or as a preservative. And there was more oil than there was wine, creating a dense, solid layer seen through the glass.

Just so you know: Romans laid corpses to rest in coffins with everyday items, including wine.

Roast Boar: Around Since 400 – 500 AD

Now that we’re in the AD era, roast boar is a recipe that goes back to this early period. One of the most famous ancient cookbooks is the De Re Coquinaria, a Roman recipe collection. It’s divided into ten sections of different cooking topics, from “The Careful Housekeeper” to “The Quadruped,” and it has hundreds of recipes.

Roasted pig on a stick at a market in London.

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Other than the more exotic recipes like roast dormouse and the liver of sows, the historical cookbook also has less challenging recipes like the straightforward roast boar. Apicius, who wrote the recipe, gave two ways of cooking the boar and seven different sauces to serve it with:

‘Wild boar is prepared thus: it is cleaned, sprinkled with salt and crushed cumin and thus left. The next day it is put into the oven; when done season with crushed pepper. A sauce for boar: honey broth, reduced wine, raisin wine.’

Lamb Meatballs with Sour Sauce: Since 1100 AD

This mouthwatering dish was written by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi in the 12th century. He wrote a cookbook called Kitab al-Ṭabīḫ, which translates to “The Book of Dishes.” It was found in its authentic state in the library of Istanbul, in Turkey. The term that you might find referring to this dish of lamb meatballs is Kofte, which is the Turkish version of the recipe.

Lamb meatballs with sour sauce and pomegranate.

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The ancient lamb meatballs dish is spiced with coriander, pepper, cinnamon, onions, and saffron. They’re meant to be served with a full-bodied jus (which is a type of sour sauce). The meatballs are typically served with mint leaves and pomegranate seeds, a mix that is still widely used today. This dish is delicious, and it’s even easy to make.

Hummus: Since 1200 AD

For the record, it’s pronounced “choomoos,” but the “ch” is a guttural sound – not like the “ch” in the word chicken. Anyways, hummus is a much-loved dip that people all over the world enjoy and not just those in the Middle East. These days, hummus is found on street corners, restaurants, and supermarket aisles everywhere. The seemingly simple dip is actually quite diverse and comes in all kinds of forms and flavors.

Hummus in a wooden bowl on a plate with pita triangles and some paprika.

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The first sign of its existence goes all the way back to Cairo, Egypt in the 13th century. Although its spelling is often debated, the universal spelling is still hummus, which comes from the Arabic word “ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna” meaning “chickpeas with tahini.” You can easily make some hummus by combining mashed chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor. It’s healthy and delicious – what more can you ask for?

Frumenty: Around Since 1381 AD

Frumenty is one of those dishes that strengthened an entire society for ages, which in this case, was medieval European. But unlike most of the dishes on this list, frumenty (in its original version) has vanished without a trace. Frumenty is similar to what we call porridge; it was boiled wheat cooked in almond broth with fruit and was eaten with dishes like meat. Some contemporary chefs tried to recreate the 14th-century recipe for their own restaurants.

Simple frumenty in a bowl with a bit of butter on top.

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Several recipes have been found for frumenty, but the oldest one dates from The Forme of Cury, a medieval cookbook dating back to 1381. The recipe found was in Middle English, but the translation came out to:

‘Take clean wheat and crush it in a morter well that the hulls go all by themselves. Take fair fresh broth and milk of almonds or sweet milk of cows and temper it all. And take the yolks of eggs. Boil it a little and set it down and present it forth with fat venison and fresh mutton.’

Oldest Beef Jerky Ever Found

Beef jerky might just be one of my guilty pleasures. I’ll eat it very randomly when I get the craving, but I won’t tell anybody about it! As it turns out. Beef jerky is an ancient food that happened to be great for those who needed to travel and journey on to the next world. That’s probably why whoever was buried in a 2000-year-old tomb found in the village of Wanli, in China, packed so much of it.

The oldest beef jerky ever found.

Source: Pinterest

It took a while for archeologists to determine that the black and green carbonized pieces they found sealed in a bronze pot were actually beef. When they did realize what it was, that black and green mess became the oldest beef ever discovered. They could even prove that it was jerky, as it didn’t shrink over the millennia, meaning it had already been dried before he was placed in the tomb.

The World’s Oldest Chocolate

There’s a 118-year-old tin of chocolate that doesn’t go as far back as the other items on this list, but it’s nonetheless most likely to be the world’s oldest chocolate. There is evidence that chocolate, which is usually in liquid form, was made in ancient times. But there is very little actual chocolate candy that has been left uneaten for so long that it can become antiquated.

Photograph of the oldest chocolates found with a small newspaper clipping labeled Sweet memory.

Photo by Sandy Young / dailymail.co.uk

The little tin box comes from Scotland, and it was made specially to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. The chocolate was passed on from the original schoolgirl who didn’t eat it, from mother to daughter, until it was eventually donated to the St. Andrews Preservation Trust in 2008.

The next ancient foods aren’t necessarily eaten today, but they’re definitely old as hell!

Some Burnt British Bread

Some said that it was a garbage pit, while some thought it was a place of religious offering. Whatever it was, by the 21st century, became just a big hole that got flooded with water, and in it were small pieces of burnt bread and other odds and ends floating around in it. That hole is in Oxfordshire, England, and estimated to be 5500 years old, from the Neolithic era (the end of the Stone Age). And in that hole was some bread, which turned out to be the most important discovery.

The oldest bread in the world.

Source: Pinterest

The overcooked (burnt) bread was mistaken for charcoal at first. Then an archeologist noticed crushed grains of barley inside it. If the age of 5,500 years is correct, then it would have been made by the first people to enter Britain from Europe. The crushed barley represents a world-changing revolution. Newcomers brought with them the unexperienced practice of farming, which meant that the age of throwing pointy sticks at mammoths was over.

Ancient Bone Soup

While digging in an effort to make way for a new airport in China, workers struck gold. Well, not actual gold. But for archeologists, it’s pretty close. These workers found soup – yes, soup. What they found specifically was a bronze cooking pot that had been sealed so tightly that the contents inside, the soup, remained in a liquid state.

One of the archaeologists opening 2400-year-old soup.

Source: AFP

The still liquid soup was discovered in a tomb near Xian. Soup is generally appetizing, but this one didn’t look too savory. What happens after 2400 years of bronze oxidation? The soup turned green. Oh, and It contained bones. This was very interesting to the archeologists on-site, and that’s probably because they didn’t actually have to eat it!

Swamp Butter

3000 years ago, in Ireland, there weren’t many options as to where you can store your 77-pound barrels of butter. And that led archeologists to be eternally grateful that the people near a Kildare bog (swamp) chose to sink theirs into peat (mulch), and forgot about it. Amazingly, all those years later, the butter barrels were found in 2009.

The skinny wooden barrel filed with bog butter.

Source: Facebook

The barrel was still intact and still full of butter. The butter lost some of its creaminess during the millennia, which turned it into a fatty white wax called adiopocere. The National Museum of Ireland’s conservator, Carol Smith, says the public will definitely never know how it tastes. “It’s a national treasure,” she said. “You can’t be going hacking bits of it off for your toast!”

3,000-Year Old Honey

Honey is nature’s candy, that’s for sure. And as it turns out, it was also a very important commodity for the ancient Egyptians. They used honey as a foodstuff, for healing, and also for embalming bodies before they went into the process of mummification. It’s no surprise then to hear that while excavating the ancient pyramids in Egypt, the archaeologists found many jars of honey.

Old fashioned ceramic jug like the ones the honey was stored in.

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And the amazing thing about honey is that it lasts forever! The honey they found in Egypt after 3,000 years was still edible. Honey naturally contains a number of natural preservatives that give it an extremely long life. According to National Geographic, the samples of the honey taken from the pyramids were still perfectly edible.

The Oldest Cookbooks Ever Found

The earliest cookbooks ever found give us a fascinating look into what the people of the time ate as well as a look into their lifestyles, most of whom were upper class. From 1700 BC to 1390 AD, some of the world’s oldest cookbooks are listed below. Some of the following ancient cookbooks have already been mentioned, but now you can see what they looked like.

One of the tablets found with ingredients.

Source: Pinterest

Like the Yale Culinary Tablets from 1700 BC. The three clay tablets may just be the oldest cookbooks in the world. These Mesopotamian tablets are part of Yale’s Babylonian collection, which displays the oldest recipes. Researchers say the recipes were the equivalent to haute cuisine – meals fit for royalty. On the tablets are 25 recipes for stew, but they only listed ingredients and no actual directions. Loaves of bread, from plain to sweet, are also mentioned in the tablets.

The Art of Cooking (4th – 5th Century AD)

Widely known as Apicius, who was named after the first-century epicurean Marcus Gavius Apicius (who has many recipes in the book), this antique cookbook in its early state was known as De re coquinaria, which translates to ‘The Art of Cooking’ in English. Researchers and archaeologists believe that this Roman cookbook was likely to have been created as early as the late 4th century.

The Apicius opened to a few pages in.

Photo by Bonho1962 / Wikimedia Commons

The Art of Cooking is broken down into 10 sections. Some of the titles include Epimeles (‘The Careful Housekeeper’), Thalassa (‘The Sea’), and Pandecter (‘Many Ingredients’), just to name a few. The recipes give readers today a look at how and what the wealthiest people of that era used to eat. One rather interesting revelation: they ate flamingo.

Kitab al-Ṭabīḫ (10th Century AD)

Written in the early 10th century by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq, this cookbook, which translates to “The Book of Dishes,” offers a look into medieval Islam’s cooking culture. It holds a large collection of more than 600 recipes in 132 chapters. It’s actually the earliest known cookbook of its kind. Some state that it was written in 950 AD.

An old middle-eastern recipe book.

Source: Pinterest

Kitab al-Ṭabīḫ (13th century) is a different cookbook and not to be confused with the cookbook of the same name from 200 years prior. The 13th-century cookbook was by Muḥammad bin al-Ḥasan bin Muḥammad bin al-Karīm al-Baghdadi – aka Baghdadi. A culinary digest of the Abbasid period, it was written in 1226. The original copy lies in Istanbul, Turkey, at the Süleymaniye Library.

Le Viandier (1300 AD)

This is another famous cookbook, and this time it comes from the Middle Ages. Le Viandier is said to have been written by Guillaume Tirel. Here’s the thing, though: Turel was born sometime around 1310, and the oldest existing manuscript discovered was from the late 13th or early 14th century. But then you need to think about the times back then.

Two covers of the cookbook Le Viandier.

Source: Amazon

In those days, it was common practice for writers to take credit for others’ work. There are four surviving manuscripts of Le Viandier today. The original is located in Sion, Switzerland. A 14th-century version is at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and a 15th-century copy is in Vatican City. Another one from the 15th century is also in Paris. The earliest version has about 130 recipes.

America’s First Cookbook (1796 AD)

“American Cookery” was published by the orphan Amelia Simmons in 1796, and it was the first cookbook by an American to be published in the United States. The first edition had 47 that contained fine recipes for roasts (stuffed goose, stuffed leg of veal, roast lamb). There were also stews and all kinds of pies. But it was the cakes that expressed best what this first cookbook of its kind had to say about its country.

The cover of American Cookery by Amelia Simmons. / The inside of American Cookery by Amelia Simmons with the types of recipes described.

Source: Amazon

The recipe for “Queen’s Cake” was a homage to British royalty, with its butter whipped to cream, a pound of sugar, a pound and a quarter of flour, 10 eggs, a glass of wine, a half-teacup of rosewater, and some spices. There was also Plumb cake, Johnnycake, buckwheat cake, and so on.

The All-American Home

The recipes and the cakes symbolized the regular, but well-run and plentiful American home. It was at the time when dialogue on how to balance the lavish with the simple in American life had started. American Cookery sold well for over 30 years, mostly in New England, New York, and the Midwest, before disappearing.

A woman is cooking back in the early 1900s.

Photo by Everett Collection / Shutterstock

Since the 50s, the cookbook has attracted historians and home cooks alike. The Library of Congress even called American Cookery one of the 88 “Books That Shaped America.” It started out as a broader initiative by social and political elites in Connecticut. And the author of American Cookery spoke directly to regular American women coping with normal everyday challenges and frustrations.

Yinshan Zhengyao (1330)

This ancient Chinese cookbook was written by a court therapist and dietitian by the name of Hu Sihui in 133. This was during China’s Yuan Dynasty. This is not only a cookbook but a popular source for Chinese medicine. Unlike some of the other ancient cookbooks, this one is a guide to help people eat properly.

The inside of Yinshan Zhengyao’s medicine cookbook.

Source: Pinterest

And by eating properly, they become healthier and keep certain diseases at bay. It makes sense since the Asian culture tends to be more holistic. Some of the book’s recipes are infused with Mongolian, Turkic and Persian flavors. Yinshan Zhengyao left behind an impressive legacy, including one specific recipe that may be the ancestor of everyone’s favorite dish: the Peking Duck. Well, it’s many peoples’ favorite.

The Book of Good Food (1350 AD)

This book was translated from German and written around 1350. Daz Buch von Guter Spise translates to The Book of Good Food, which is a pretty straightforward yet awesome title if you ask me. Anyway, it’s the oldest German cookbook. It gives us an insight into the culinary culture of what the urban upper class was like back then.

The inside of Daz Buch von Guter Spise.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This cookbook features 101 recipes: 57 recipes in the first section and 44 in the second. The Book of Good Food was meant for the more experienced cooks, showcasing what many foodies today would consider as haute cuisine. Germany also produced Würzberg and Kuchenmeysterey (which is translated to “Kitchen Mastery”) in 1485. That was Germany’s first printed German cookbook.

Forms of Cooking (1390 AD)

Published around 1390, The Forme of Cury, or Forms of Cooking, is an ancient English cookbook that was written by ‘The Master Cooks of King Richard II.’ It’s the oldest known cookbook in the English language. The original was written on vellum and had 205 recipes. Some of the ingredients in the recipes include olive oil, cloves, and meats like cranes, herons, and whales.

The inside of Forms of Cooking.

Source: Pinterest

The Householder of Paris (Le Ménagier de Paris) from 1393 was not so much a cookbook as it was a guidebook on how women, specifically wives, should properly act during the medieval times. The book contained everything from how a woman should act on how to take care of the household and what to cook.

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