Ancient Greek Nutrition
The nutritional habits in ancient Greece are saved either in ancient Greek and Roman literature or in artistic depictions of the time. Cereals and vegetables ranked first in their preferences. Wheat, barley and oats, but also lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, greens, onions, garlic, mushrooms, pumpkins, legumes such as beans, lentils and the chickpeas were served on a daily basis. Fruits made up the next largest food group within ancient Greek nutrition, such as grapes, apples, pears, pomegranates and figs. Nuts, olives, but also dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), eggs, honey, as well as herbs and spices (oregano, thyme, mint, parsley, silfio, coriander, pepper, cinnamon, cumin etc.) complemented the rich range of raw ingredients. Trade and the exploration of the East also brought new foods to the area such as citrus fruits, peaches and peanuts. Apicius, an ancient Roman traveller-cook and gourmet lover, reports that in classical Greece, three to four spices were used in a dish. Cooking in Greece, until 200 BC, was based on specific ingredients: wine, honey, vinegar, cabbage, dry and sweet wine, coriander, caraway, oregano, cheeses (mainly goat cheese), lamb, game birds, fish, dried figs, raisins and fennel. The consumption of red meat was initially occasional. Due to its high price it was mainly consumed at festivals or after sacrifices, and then with the trade development from the 4th century. B.C. and onwards along with the increase of wealth, meat consumption becomes more common while poultry, gamebirds, seafood and fish, especially in coastal and riparian areas, were more accessible.
Wine had a prominent place in the ancient Greek diet, and it will become one of the main ingredients of Greek and Roman gastronomy. In the 4th century. B.C. the first professional cooks appear in the ancient texts, while recipes of pastry and bakery travel all over the territory of the Greek world. The earliest compositions of cooking are referred to as mixes or mixtures, which is why the cook was called “magician” at the time and “mageirike” meant the art of cooking.
The philosophy of Greek gastronomy, rich in materials and techniques, consisted of balancing bitter and sour, moderate seasoning and sweetness in sauces. The secrets of ancient Greek cooking and gastronomy were documented by the philosopher and poet Archestratus from Syracuse (4th century BC) in the poem ” Hedypatheia”(Life of Luxury), as it is referred in Athenaeus of Naukratis work “The Deipnosophistae”. According to Archestratus, the five golden rules of gastronomic art are summarized in the use of raw food materials of good quality, combine them harmoniously, avoid hot sauces and spices, prefer lighter sauces to enjoy the meal and use spices moderately, so as to not interfere with natural flavours pure materials for food preparation, the harmony of materials between them, and in light sauces.