What Food Did Sumerians Eat?

Cornelia Doerr/Photographer’s Choice/Getty Images

Barley was the main staple of the Sumerian diet, and was used to make barley cakes and barley paste. Sumerians combined barley with other local vegetables, including beans, lentils, chickpeas, mustard and lettuce. Lamb, goat, pork and fish were favorites with city-dwelling Sumerians, but rural farming communities did not eat meat often and lived on a mostly vegetarian diet.

Sumerians mostly lived on barley products and vegetables. These items were often made into soups or enriched bread. Sumerians also enjoyed fruits such as apples, figs, dates and grapes. Sumerians often dried their fruits or preserved them in honey. Honey was a favorite treat and Sumerians added honey to almost all types of food. Goats were prized both for their meat and their milk.

The food culture in ancient Sumer shares several characteristics with modern food culture. Sumerian cities had food stalls, a type of fast food establishment where pedestrians could order any type of food and be on their way with a fully cooked meal in a matter of minutes. Beer and wine were popular with Sumerians, and Sumerians made up drinking songs in their local taverns. Several languages were spoken in Sumer, so Sumerians wrote down cooking instructions translated into each local language. Sumerians were responsible for the first written recipes.