Ancient Greek food pertains to the food prepared by the Greeks between 1200 BC to 323 BC. The food was predominantly vegetarian, although fish and meat were also consumed.
Cultural and Religious Influences
Ancient Greeks were mostly farmers, and the food they ate came from the crops they produced. Their religions also emphasized vegetarianism. However, some people chose to refrain from sacred animals, certain animal parts, and some types of vegetables.
Common Ingredients of Ancient Greek Cuisine
Barley, wheat, vegetables, fruits, fish, and eggs were the common ingredients used in the Ancient Greek cuisine. Legumes included chickpeas, beans, and lentils. Cucumber, carrot, asparagus, and squash were some of the vegetables used. Olive oil was used as a cooking medium, while the fruit was eaten raw. Coriander, thyme, and sesame seeds were used for seasoning. Meat was available for the rich, who raised goat, sheep, and pigs. Meat from games included that of birds, boars, hare, and deer. Octopus was a favorite seafood among other varieties of fish. Honey and grape syrup were used as sweeteners by the ancient Greeks. Cheese was popular, but milk was generally not drunk.
Cooking was done in open fire or wood-burning ovens. Meat was roasted over charcoal or spit. Seafood was often cooked with cheese.
Bread made from barley was a common food item in the Ancient Greek cuisine. It was often dipped in wine and eaten with a fruit, such as olive or fig. People also made pancakes which were prepared from olive oil, wheat, honey, and curdled milk. Lentil soup was consumed by the working class. Lunch included bread with cheese. Sausage was affordable for all classes. Dinner had porridge made from barley along with cheese, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and fish.
Volvoi was an ancient Greek food, which was made by marinating onion bulbs. A barley gruel called kykeon was also drunk. Greeks also prepared and consumed different varieties of wine.
Ancient Greeks celebrated several festivals for their deities. Meat from the sacrificed animal was roasted and distributed as festival food. Desserts included fresh fruits, cakes, nuts, and dried figs dipped in honey. The Baklava and the pasteli are some of the ancient Greek desserts. The pasteli is a sesame honey candy. It was made with sesame seeds and honey and served as an energizer. The baklava was a kind of pastry that was made with nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts. Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and pepper were also included. Natural sweeteners like honey and petimezi were used.
Food Habits and Etiquette
Greeks had three to four meals a day, of which the dinner was the most important meal. Men and women dined separately. Food and wine were carried by slaves for the rich people. Among the rich, dining was considered as an opportunity to socialize. Greeks had the custom of a symposium, which was a gathering of men, where wine, appetizers, fruits, and meat were served for the entirety of the program. The symposium also had a dessert session where sweets, pies, and fruits were consumed with wine.
Health Benefits of Ancient Greek Food
The Ancient Greek cuisine put all available ingredients to maximum use. The barley bread was not only filling, but nourishing too. Barley helps lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. Lentils provided the people with protein, iron, and fiber, and they were low in fat as well. Vegetables provided the essential vitamins and minerals. Although meat was available, it was not consumed excessively. Wine provided the people with antioxidants and proved to be healthy for the heart. The olive oil, which peopled used as a cooking medium, contained good fat. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fat, which is good for the heart. It helped in decreasing the level of bad cholesterol in the body and reduced the risk of heart disease. Therefore, the Ancient Greek food was low in fat and cholesterol, but high in nutrition.