Cooking and baking today are fast, easy, and convenient. You can find an appliance or tool for everything, and an instruction on how to make anything with fairly easy steps. Home cooks have never had it better and great home cooking has become more normal than not.
However, back in the days before all of our modern methods, many people had to struggle much harder. They had to get more creative when preparing their food and sometimes use methods we wouldn’t think of now because we don’t need them. Due to the need for different processes, as well as being cultures from the past, their tastes were often quite different as well.
10. Hot Chocolate Used To Not Be Sweet And Was More Like Coffee
In the days of the Aztecs and Mayans they invented the drink we know now as hot chocolate, however, it was quite different from the sweet, milky beverage we know today..Hot chocolate was prepared using chocolate that was not refined using the processes we are used to today, which made it a lot fresher, but it also meant it had way more caffeine. This, of course, meant that the Aztecs and Maya of old figured out how to exploit the drink and use it as a stimulant like coffee or tea. This was probably helped out by the fact that chocolate naturally contains another stimulant as well called theobromine.
The other thing we would have found odd apart from the more concentrated and fresher chocolate flavor and the extreme energy boost, would have been that they used very little if any sweeteners at all. They occasionally used a little honey to offset bitterness, but this was often left out entirely, which is something many of us would have trouble finding enjoyable to drink today. They of course also used spices in it as well, something that you can see in Mexican variants of hot chocolate today, although most of them use much heavier amounts of sweeteners than did their ancestors.
9. Wine Was Much More Sour And Often Greatly Diluted
Well before modern refrigeration, especially back in the days of Ancient Rome, wine was drunk very differently. Many people saw the idea of drinking wine early in the day and getting drunk to be very uncouth. They also considered those who drank wine without water to cut it were barbarians in the literal sense. They would cut their wine with water and sometimes even seawater, both to cut down on how alcoholic it was, and also to make it more palatable to drink.
It was this last part that was probably why the Romans insisted on cutting their wine with water so much, rather than just their claims about drunkenness and the usual needs for safe drinking water. The problem is that before modern preservation methods, Roman wine would go rancid really fast. It was usually only good on its own the first month after harvest. After that, they would mix it with honey, myrrh, ash, spices,l and a host of other things in order to attempt to make it taste somewhat drinkable — they would even sometimes put in lead, in the hopes of balancing out the sourness.
8. Bread Was A Bit Different But Goes Back to Prehistoric Days
While our ancient ancestors were still figuring things out, there is now evidence that humans were making bread as early as 14,000 years ago. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen were looking at a site in Jordan and they discovered bread crumbs that were incredibly old. The bread was made using oats, barley, einkorn and fibers from something called a papyrus plant. The bread was not leavened, but it gave researchers some very interesting clues about ancient life.
The people, identified as the Natufians, were possibly cultivating the grains for use in bread, and if true this could mean that people had a different relationship with going from hunter gatherers to farmers than some previously thought. They believe this could indicate that the desire to eat bread after its initial discovery from wild grains may have actually caused people to start attempting to settle down and farm, because it was such a desirable food.
7. The Amount Of Sugar In Our Foods Is A Very Recent Addition
In Colonial days the average American consumed about six pounds of sugar per year, today, the average American consumer about 130 pounds of sugar per year. This consumption of sugar, according to some experts, could lead to obesity or at least be one of the risks, although of course it is hard to say conclusively. One thing for certain is that there are a whole host of health factors associated with consuming too much sugar, and the May Clinic recognizes added sugar as one of the biggest threats to health that most people don’t think much about.
Now when you think about it, we have had a well over 2,000% increase in sugar consumption since the days of the country’s founding. Some may wonder where things all went wrong, and the answer is the rise of certain types of farming. Sugar beets became a massive crop and then in 1876 the United States signed a treaty with Hawaii which gave them more access to sugar cane. After that, the obsession took off, and with the nation’s corn plants allowing for cheap high fructose corn syrup, the rest is extremely unhealthy history.
6. Salted Meat And Salt Fish Were Incredibly Common And Required Special Preparation
Back before modern refrigeration and food preservation, salted meat and salt fish were basically a staple of many pantries. Salting was required in order to preserve meat and fish stores long enough to avoid wasting them. Along with smoked meats, salted meat was instrumental in keeping people alive long enough for us to exist today.
While preservation methods could vary, such as in Ireland where they used ash made from seaweed instead of regular salts, the techniques required for making the meat edible were all the same. You had to soak the salted meat or fish overnight in water, to make it ready to cook and then serve without salt poisoning. This excess salty water that was leftover could be used for stews, soups or other similar applications.
5. Much Ancient Beer Was Low In Alcohol And Considered A Nutritious Drink
Some people think everyone was drinking beer all the time in ancient days, and this was because it was the only way to make their water safe. However, the truth is the evidence suggests this really isn’t the case. Many ancient cultures frowned on certain members of their society, especially the women, drinking at all, and most cultures did actually have access to relatively fresh drinking water. The truth though, is that like most things, there is something in a rumor for it to get legs in the first place.
People did often drink weaker beer, sometimes called small beer in the days of the middle ages especially and in other time periods of ancient culture as well, but they didn’t do it so they could have safe drinking water that didn’t get them drunk. The main reason most of them drank this substance was because it was considered a high calorie, more nutritious alternative to water. It provided farmers and workers with carbohydrates and energy, while not really getting them drunk as it was low in alcohol.
4. Cheesecake Goes Back To Ancient Greece But It Was Quite Different
As far as most people are concerned, cheesecake was invented in New York and Cream Cheese, which is required to make it, was invented in Philadelphia not much more than a hundred years ago. However, while it is true that the modern take on cheesecake is quite new for obvious reasons as it involves cream cheese, the idea of cheesecake goes all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. Back in their day, cheesecake was made with flour, eggs, ricotta, honey and sometimes lavender. It was often served in a small pastry shell.
Today, of course, we use eggs, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and sometimes flavorings. If we are making a no bake cheesecake, we may even use gelatin instead of eggs. In Japan, cheesecakes are made with very little cheese, and lots of egg whites. While our modern recipes are quite different, that doesn’t mean the ancient recipes are out of reach.With a little creativity, food bloggers have recreated ancient goat cheese and honey cakes made by the Ancient Greeks, and reviews from those who tried them found them to be quite delicious.
3. Rosewater Was Used To Flavor Baked Goods Instead Of Vanilla
While today neutral baked goods are flavored with vanilla, up until around the early 19th century, rosewater was actually the choice most people made as an agent for adding flavor to their baked goods. Many today would find the very concept to be rather icky. Most in the Western world in modern times have little taste for floral flavors, but they were once very popular.
While this may sound strange to us, floral flavors have been in use in baking and cooking for many years and throughout many cultures, it just isn’t something very popular in current Western cooking. Still today, floral flavors like Rosewater can be found in treats like Turkish Delight, which features in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe as a treat so good that a teenage boy literally betrays his siblings to the devil so he can have some.
2. Fruit And Nuts In Baked Goods Were Once The Height Of Luxury
Today most people think of fruitcake as rather gross. However, things used to be quite the opposite. Back before the industrial revolution really took hold and we started having so many food processing and preservation methods, fruitcake was considered to be the height of decadence. In olden days desserts meant for holidays pften featured as many nuts and fruits as possible. It was a way of showing off how much you could afford, even if only once in a while and a way of feeling for a time like you were a rich man enjoying the finer things in life.
Today, things have come full circle and we just really do not understand this. Johnny Carson even made a famous joke about how he thought there was only one fruitcake, and the same stale thing kept getting regifted and passed around year after year.The point of all the fruit and nuts and its decadence is lost on us. With modern refrigeration and nut processing, eating a bunch of them at once doesn’t feel nearly so luxurious. Due to this, people’s taste for this sort of dessert has faded over time. However, you can still see the vestiges of it, in desserts like carrot cake where raisins and nuts are often still recommended.
1. Baking Has Come A Long Way, And Home Baking Is Much More Recent
Today anyone can easily be a home baker, and during the pandemic many people tried their hand, even getting so good as making their own sourdough starters. However, back in the day, most of this was way more difficult and for many people next to impossible. In colonial days, many people did have sourdough starters they used to make their own biscuits and flapjacks, but making things accurately could be tricky and bread was harder to make. They used bee hive shaped brick ovens that only regulated temperature by burning the right amount of ash beforehand, and then letting air out or adding more ash as needed.
Bread was considered such an important part of life that everyone from soldiers to citizens saw it as an important part of a balanced diet and quartermasters had to build ovens at any long term base for the baking of bread. In the late 1800s gas stoves started to appear and in the 1900s electric stoves began to become a regular thing. Still, it wasn’t until World War II that active dry yeast was invented and effortless home baking of bread truly became a normal thing in most of the world.