• Food preparation and storage
  • Bread-making and brewing
Tomb Owner
Tomb number
9th Dynasty
Main chamber, side "6" (southeastern side) of the pillar I, 3 registers.
Theme Description
Bread and beer were the staple foods of ancient Egyptian diet. For a long time, the artistic depictions like paintings, reliefs, Old Kingdom servant statues and Middle Kingdom wooden models were considered the primary source for the interpretation of baking and brewing processes. In recent years, these images have been re-evaluated as new evidence was gained by archaeology and archaeobotany. The two cereals cultivated in Egypt were emmer wheat and barley. Both of them are of hulled nature, i.e. it was necessary to remove the husk or chaff surrounding the grain prior to use. According to the artistic representations, after threshing the grain was pounded in a mortar and afterwards the detached fine chaff was winnowed off and the coarse chaff sieved from the grain. As pounding could easily damage the grain kernels of emmer, its spikelets were most probably moistened to make them more flexible and to prevent them from crushing when breaking the chaff. The clean and dry grain was then milled on a saddle quern to produce flour. Bread was predominantly made of emmer, flour of which was mixed with water and made to dough. A widespread use of yeast or lactic acid bacteria cannot be definitely confirmed but at least some bread loaves might have been leavened. Two principal bread types were produced – flatbread and conical bread loaves. After shaping the loaves, the flatbread was baked in heated bread platters or on open hearths or griddles; in the New Kingdom flat bread loaves were baked on preheated inner oven walls. Conical bread loaves were baked in preheated bread moulds. The interpretation of brewing methods is much disputed. According to the prevalent opinion based on Old and Middle Kingdom artistic representations, the ancient Egyptian beer was made of a so-called beer bread that had been only lightly baked so that some yeasts survived and those were crucial for the later fermentation. Such bread loaves were mixed with water and left to ferment in vats. It also has been suggested that dates were added to provide this mixture with sugars and that even malt might have been used. Either before or after fermentation the mash was sieved or filtered through a sieve into a brewing vat. The fermented beer was then poured into beer jars whose interior was covered with a film of fine mud to fill up their pores. Finally, the jars were closed with lids and sealed with mud. Microscopic analyses of beer residues from the Predynastic Period and from the New Kingdom reveal a different picture of beer preparation. On the basis of the form of starch granules and yeast cells the brewing processes were reconsidered. Obviously, the grain used for brewing (in most cases barley) was divided into two batches. One batch was left to sprout = malt (to produce enzymes necessary for converting starch into sugars) and then coarsely milled, while the second batch (sometimes sprouted) was coarsely milled and then cooked (to disperse the starch granules and make them easy to attack by enzymes). Afterwards, these batches were mixed together and the starch was converted into sugars with the help of the enzymes. The sugar-rich mash was sieved into a brewing vat, enriched with yeast and left to ferment. Bread does not seem to be used for brewing, at least not in the discussed periods. For the Old and Middle Kingdom, archaeobotanical investigations are still missing, making the artistic depictions the only source for interpretation. The microscopic analyses of earlier or later periods have to be taken into account when proving their validity, but one has to be aware of the fact that production methods might have changed over time. 66 depictions of baking and brewing are known from Old Kingdom tombs of officials so far (see: OEE 9.6) while the corpus of the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom includes 21 images. While the iconography of the First Intermediate Period shows many similarities with the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom examples features new type of hearth, saddle quern, bread moulds and bread shapes, brewing vats, sieves and beer jars (see: Hudáková, L., Innovative Power of Middle Kingdom Tomb Decoration as reflected in the scenes of grain processing, bread-making and brewing, in: Budka, J. at alii, Florilegium Aegyptiacum, pp. 159 - 188). Compare also: Samuel, D., Brewing and baking, in: Nicholson and Shaw, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, pp. 537 – 576; Samuel, D., Brewing and Baking in Ancient Egyptian Art, in: Walker (ed.), Food in the Arts, pp. 173 – 181; Faltings, D., Die Keramik der Lebensmittelproduktion im Alten Reich; Helck, W., Das Bier im Alten Ägypten; Grunert, S., Bierbrauer unter sich, in: GM 173 (1999), pp. 91 – 112; Kubiak-Martens, L. and Langer, J.J., Predynastic Beer Brewing as suggested by Botanical and Physicochemical Evidence from Tell el-Farkha, Eastern Delta, in: Midant-Reynes and Tristant (eds.), Egypt at its Origins 2, pp. 427 – 441; Klebs, L., Die Reliefs und Malereien des Mittleren Reiches, pp. 119 – 121; Vandier, J., Manuel d'archéologie égyptienne IV, pp. 272 – 318.