Table of contents:

Medieval cooking and its influence on modern cuisine
Medieval cooking and its influence on modern cuisine

Many of the things we eat all the time appeared and became fashionable in the Middle Ages - for example, pasta and candy. Then they figured out what is better to eat with it.

Combination of ancient and barbarian traditions

At the beginning of the Middle Ages, in the 6th century, there was no talk of any innovations. Cooking has fallen into disrepair. Only hunger prompted me to create recipes. For example, in Gaul at the end of the century bread was baked from grape seeds and hazel flowers; crushed dried fern, meadow grass and other additives were added to the flour. Where despair drove people to the limit, mice or insect soup was made and often poisoned. But this is extreme. But after several centuries, the situation improved, and not only kings, but also ordinary Europeans began to look for a variety of tastes.

The diet in ancient Rome mainly consisted of cereals (and this is porridge and flatbread), legumes, olive oil, wine, vegetables and dairy products (primarily cheese), meat was used less often. The Greeks ate in a similar way. Quite delicious dishes also appeared on the tables of the nobles. Among the surrounding barbarians, on the other hand, livestock, fishing and hunting (and hence milk and meat) were of paramount importance.

Medieval Europe inherited both barbaric (Celtic and Germanic) and Greco-Roman food cultures: meat culture and bread culture. Both products have become indispensable in the south and north. This is the first feature of the Middle Ages that we have inherited.


A real addiction to meat is characteristic of the Middle and High Middle Ages. By the 13th century, when hunger strikes were already quite rare, especially in southern Europe, even ordinary townspeople began to consume quite a lot. According to Riccobaldo of Ferrara, at the time, Italians “only ate fresh meat three times a week; for lunch they cooked meat with vegetables, and for dinner they served the same meat cold."

It would seem that three times a week is not bad, but at the end of the century it was already considered insufficient, meager. Consumption gradually increased. According to some reports, in the 15th century. in Germany, middle and high-income citizens ate on average 100 kg of meat per year per capita (for comparison, in Russia in 2018 - 75.1 kg). The same trend took place in Poland, Sweden, France, England and the Netherlands, in the countryside and in southern Europe they ate less meat, but still much more than in modern times, when demographic growth and prolonged brutal wars provoked a shortage.

Meat, of course, is boring to eat just like that - and here trade with the countries of the East helped.

Such an abundance could be found in city shops

Spicy Madness

This is what the historian Fernand Braudel called the culinary innovation of the 13th and later centuries. Spices were gradually spreading from the 10th to 11th centuries, and by the 13th century. the first cookbooks also appear: medieval man wanted not only satiety, but also pleasure. In Rome, except for pepper, there were almost no spices, ordinary people did not indulge in them.

Now in Italy, Germany, England, Catalonia and France, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, cloves and other spices were in demand. The historian M. Montarini calls the widespread opinion a myth that spices were used to mask the bad smell of stale meat or to preserve it. The rich cooks, for whom no one put rotten meat on the table, also sprinkled food abundantly with spices, so spices are exclusively a way to make the meat dish tastier.

In addition, it was not meat as such that was brought to the cities, but live cattle, which were slaughtered at the request of the client - there was no time for the products to deteriorate. Small candies were also made from spices; it was believed that they contribute to better digestion of food. They even ate them before going to bed. Poor people, who cost a pretty penny with spices, mixed them with ordinary herbs, but with the same purpose: to season the ingredients.

Spice candies were believed to aid digestion in the Middle Ages.

Spice shop [thin


Pies and pies in the Middle Ages became widespread among the people - throughout Europe. In Antiquity, they were not cooked (except that at the imperial Roman feast they could fill a huge pie with live birds - but this is an element of the show, not food). The chefs achieved great skill and ingenuity in this, the shapes and fillings could satisfy any taste - fish, meat, vegetable, cheese, with eggs and herbs, puff, with a mix of fillings …

In cities where many bakeries and eateries operated, pies became an everyday food, easy to transport and consume outside the home. The lasagna invented at the same time in Italy can also be called a kind of pie - in fact, it is a pie devoid of dough sides.

In a medieval bakery


Strictly speaking, pasta was not a medieval invention - both in China and in the Mediterranean, noodles appeared in antiquity. But they began to dry it in the Middle Ages (according to one version, the Arabs, according to the other - Italians). The light product has a long shelf life and can easily serve as a food reserve while traveling, well suited for trade.

Already in the 12th century, rather large industries appeared in Italy. For a couple of centuries, centers for making pasta arose in Sicily, Liguria, Apulia and other regions, then, in the 14th century, and in other countries - France, England, Northern Europe. Then the chefs were already preparing pasta (short pasta), long pasta, flat (for lasagna) and stuffed (ravioli).

Making dried pasta


Sugar, which was considered an "Arabian spice", took its place in cooking already at the end of the Middle Ages, in the 14th - 15th centuries. At first, it was considered more of a medicine and could only be bought from pharmacists, but then it entered the daily food circulation. The cookbooks of Italy, Spain and England at the time include recipes for making sweets, main dishes and drinks using sugar, for example, sugar candies, candied fruits, sugar broths and pies, sweetened spiced wine (practically mulled wine).

First page of the German Book of Good Dishes, circa 1350

Beer and spirits

Antiquity knew wine, cider and mash. In the Middle Ages, hops began to be added to the mash and received a light, loose beer, which became very popular from the 13-14 centuries, especially in latitudes where almost no wine was made (in Scandinavia, for example). At about the same time, Europeans and spirits were invented.

Distillation stills appeared in antiquity (among the Egyptians, Greeks or Romans - it is not known for certain), but then they were used to obtain mercury and sulfur. In the 12th century, medieval naturalists for the first time decided to cool the coil and distill the wine - this is how the first wine alcohol was obtained in Italy. It was called "flammable water" or aqua vitae - "water of life". By the 15th century, they began to consume it not only as a pain reliever, but also simply in taverns - for pleasure.

Distillation in early modern times

It is not easy to determine who exactly and when made the first cognac or vodka. According to the historian V. Pokhlebkin, they began to distill rye mash into bread wine (vodka) in Russia in the 15th century.

In 1334 wine alcohol was distilled in France (then cognac was made from it), at the end of the 15th century gin and whiskey appeared, in 1520-1522. German alchemists first made schnapps - Branntwein ("hot wine"). And then began the most sophisticated experiments with raw materials and distillation techniques, which provided the current alcoholic variety.

For all this - thanks to the Middle Ages!

Popular by topic