Are you crazy about ancient culture? Do you love to experiment with food? Nothing can bring you closer to the past than bread. In fact, bread meant food itself in Old English. So, what better way to explore the culture of Egypt than to recreate the ancient Egyptian bread?
All you Need to Know about Tasty Ancient Egyptian Bread and its Revival!
Bread was like breath for the Egyptians. It was a fundamental part of their life. They prayed, gave thanks and even had cultural events celebrating bread and harvest.
Moreover, the Egyptian vocabulary had many bread-related words. Egyptian beer too was a staple food.
Ancient Egyptians baked bread to sustain their own family and not for profit. So, nothing of its recipe or method of baking was documented. There seemed to be a few clues about the making of this 4,500 old Egyptian bread. This recipe was lost to the ages.
There had been several attempts to resurrect the bread now and then. But without proper research and evidence, none succeeded in rebuilding the ancient staple food.
Here’s where experimental archeology comes into play. It not only gave convincing answers related to the process of baking ancient Egyptian bread but also involved considering the emotional aspects of the Egyptians. It relives how their senses worked while they baked. The entire aura and aroma of the Egyptian bread baking was recreated.
What is Ancient Egyptian Bread?
Old texts revealed that those who could afford extra toppings added spices and herbs like coriander too for flavor. Emmer, a high-quality grain, was a daily staple of the Egyptians. Barley and Emmer played an important role in baking ancient Egyptian bread.
How is Emmer Wheat Produced?
The Emmer wheat was first cultivated in the Middle East. Gradually, it gained popularity and became commonly used in the succeeding centuries. However, today, despite its cultivation in several countries, it has lost its importance. This is due to its density and so, its difficulty to be made into flour.
To remove the chaff, one must thresh the grains and break up the wheat barb into spikelets. Water must be sprinkled on the grains to soften them. Then they are milled or pounded with a pestle to separate them without any damage. After drying, it is winnowed, sieved and then milled on a saddle quern stone, which is an ancient grain grinder.
The method of baking progressed down the ages from basic ancient pottery molds baked on embers to modern cylindrical clay oven. This oven was made of bricks, mud and mortar.
While in the former, the pot is filled with dough, in the latter, after heating the oven, the dough is spread against the inner wall and pulled out after it is baked. The bread was made in different shapes, sizes and textures.
Why Recreate Ancient Egyptian Bread?
Recreating a loaf of bread that was made centuries ago is significant because it is proof of universal human experience. The fact that we can indulge in the same activities as the Egyptians who lived so long ago helps us relate to our ancestors.
Reinventing it is also a solution to the puzzle of how the ancient Egyptian bread came into being. It also helps us discover some part of their tradition and lifestyle in the process of its making.
Seamus Blackley and his Ancient Egyptian Bread Experiment:
Seamus Blackley, an Egyptologist and Baker, made history by resurrecting the ancient Egyptian bread which slept for all these years. Richard Bowman, a microbiologist from the University of Iowa and Serena Love, an archaeologist assisted him in his attempt.
The main ingredient for bread is yeast, apart from the grains. However, yeast cells undergo mutations over time. The yeast that the ancient Egyptians used is different from the modern yeast cells. One can use the wild yeast, which is similar to the ancient strain. But the age of the yeast will bring about a significant difference.
Thus, in Blackley’s attempt to reproduce the carbon-copy of the bread, it was essential to use the ancient yeast strain. Where can one find the strain than in the vessels themselves? So, he obtained permission to get access to the antique Egyptian baking vessels preserved in the museum in Boston.
These vessels still held the residual yeast cells from ancient baking. These sleeping cells were then extracted using an activating solution. Thus, Blackley acquired the activated yeast sample. He then combined them with the flour to ferment the ancient Egyptian bread.
Blackley’s Underground Baking Method:
Blackley’s experiment was Egyptian in all aspects. When his first trial with a modern oven was fine, he realized that taking the Egyptian method of using an earthen oven would be more efficient in producing the ancient Egyptian bread. So in the successive trials, he employed the underground baking option. He concluded this arrangement (as detailed in the procedure) by the trial and error method.
The result of Blackley’s experiment:
The making is compatible with modern-day sourdough bread, but Blackley expressed that it was sweeter, richer, lighter and airier than the traditional sourdough which was surprisingly good for a loaf of whole wheat bread. He was tremendously happy with the flavor and aroma. The bread was incredibly soft and delicious.
Let’s look at how he recreated the bread:
How to make Ancient Egyptian Bread?
Emmer wheat, Einkorn and Barley, olive oil and water, active ancient yeast (as obtained by Blackley), water, coriander (optional), date syrup, two earthen pots and coal.
1. Extract the yeast from the ancient vessels or use wild yeast, or better still you can make your own yeast! Yeast acts on the bread to make it fluffy.
2. Disinfect your workplace thoroughly, so that the modern microbes will not stain the yeast.
3. Create the starter by feeding the yeast with barley, Emmer and Einkorn (three ancient grains used to make the ancient Egyptian bread), water and olive oil. Keep this mixture aside for 30 mins for a week. This is to neutralize Emmer’s hardening effects on the bread and in turn get soft loaves.
4. Get two pots ready and set them down vertically. Make sure that you cover them with flaxseed oil or animal fat to make them nonstick. You can also apply bran on all sides of the dough for this purpose.
5. Then, fill a hole in the ground with coal and insert these vertical pots into it.
6. Keep the dough in the lower pot. In this setting, the upper pot and coal work as the traditional instruments to bake bread.
7. Ensure that you place the embers at both ends of the pots. The ancient Egyptian bread is ready!
8. If this baking technique sounds impossible, you can also bake it in an oven. It just won’t be as fun as the other.
To try out a more casual baking of the ancient Egyptian bread click here.
Though the yeast used by Blackley was not totally free from mutations, his experiment is a mile closer to the great Egyptian bread. In order to produce an exact copy of the bread, he also plans to reproduce and use the ancient cooking vessels. His trials and exploration of various methods to produce old age breads with the help of scientists continues.
What do you know about ancient Egyptian bread and culture? Share your ideas with us in the comments!