When the last Glacier Period ended and the ice receded, some wild grasses
began growing on the plains. Man developed slowly through the following
millenniums from a hunter to a herder, then to a settler of the land who
domesticated the animals. Among the wild grasses were the small grains:
wheat, barley, rye, oats, millet; and man discovered the grains were edible.
In 12,000 BC the Egyptian Halifan tribesmen were using grinding stones to
produce flour from wild cereal grasses growing in the lower Nile region. By
11,000 BC, as the glaciers began to recede, large fields of wild grain began to
grow in the Near East. In 8,000 BC temperatures began to rise in Northern
Europe and food from the land became a possibility. Agriculture began to
develop in the Near East where women used digging sticks to plant seeds on
small plots of cleared ground. People began to settle into communities when it
became apparent that cultivating 25 acres of land would provide a family with
sufficient food. These small farms provide a life far more desirable than the
hunter-gatherer life of wandering over hundreds and thousands of acres to
sustain life by animal kills.
Quantities of grain gathered and husked of their chaff, then pounded and
mixed with liquid produced a palatable gruel. One day the heat of fire was
applied to a lump of gruel, whether by accident or as a trial. This produced a
round flat unleavened bread, known to many as Arabic bread, to others as a
chapati, a round flat bread that still supplies a large share of the dietary
requirements to the people of India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. We know
it today in the United States as pita bread.
Wheat, the most popular of the wild grasses, has been known in the Middle
East for over 11,000 years. This nutritious grain has an endosperm containing
gluten. When combined with yeast the tiny air bubbles that create our spongy
bread are produced. The original wheat had tough chaff which the early
Sumerians in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) removed by roasting on the
stone floors of their houses. Roasting the wheat changed the chemical
composition of the gluten so that even if yeast had been introduced, a
leavened bread could not have been baked.
A new variety of wheat evolved in Egypt by the beginning of the Dynastic Period
(about 3400 BC). Roasting was not required to remove its chaff. It was easily
separated by hand thrashing or by walking cattle over it repeatedly. Leavened
bread had been discovered before the pharaohs but was probably reserved for
the rich. The first leavened loaf of bread probably resulted from a friendly
microbe finding its way into a piece of dough set aside for the next meal or
from kneading by hands recently in contact with beer, wine or fermented date
palm toddy. Judging from the remnants of foods found in ancient tombs, the
inquiring and inventive Egyptians developed a line of wheat products similar to
what we have today: bread, eclairs, sweet crackers, cakes and even pudding.
One wealthy tomb builder had 10 varieties of bread and cakes to eat during his
journey from his earthly life to his eternal one.
The first bread-baking oven, a truncated cone shaped object made with mud
brick, is credited to the Egyptians. They also probably had the first commercial
bread-making industry. Unfortunately, as nutritious as their bread may have
been, there were hazards to eating it.
Archaeologists were long puzzled as to why the teeth of older mummies were
so badly worn. After analyzing bread morsels found in tombs and
experimenting with bread making, they decided that the Egyptian bakers had
mixed sand with the grain during the milling process to speed the flour making
and obtain a finer flour. Evidently there was no health warning on the bread
wrapper stating; "The sand used in the flour milling process may be harmful to
Bread was popular with the Greeks and Romans who held it to be the staff of
life. They fashioned male and female genitalia from flour and baked them
into bread. At least one French restaurant followed this practice in the 1950's
and early 1960's. The Greeks served sesame cakes at weddings to ensure
fertility and the Romans ate a cake made of flour, salt and water. Wheat,
fertility and love have long been associated. At one time wheat instead of rice
was thrown at newlyweds
In the Middle Ages young German girls rolled naked in freshly thrashed wheat,
milled it into flour and baked it into bread. The bread was fed to the girl's
lover who supposedly was overcome immediately with passion. How well this
worked is unknown but that it became woven into folklore indicates some
During the Middle Ages another popular way to eat wheat was as frumenty.
Made by soaking husked wheat in hot water for twenty-four hours, a milky jelly
resulted that could be eaten cold with milk and honey or heated with meat and
A modern archaeologist interested in harvesting and eating habits of early man
used ancient farming tools to harvest wild wheat grasses in Turkey. Studying
his output he determined that a family of six, in three weeks, could have
harvested sufficient grain to provide each family member with one pound per
day for a year. Considering that a pound of bulgar wheat has about 1600
calories, three weeks work provided the family with the major portion of their
daily calorie requirements. How long do you work for yours?