What is mainly eaten for dinner?

Nutrition in the Middle Ages What did humans eat around 1,000 years ago?

From written sources and archaeological findings, we now know a lot about eating habits in the Middle Ages and their development: from self-sufficiency in the countryside to urban markets and exotic goods.

Bones as historical sources

Cookbooks, customs rolls and tax registers, but also the descriptive literature are important written sources for research into nutrition in the Middle Ages. For the early Middle Ages, which was poor in writing, the experts relied on finds from archaeological excavations. Since the 1970s, "latrine research", as it is casually called, has provided valuable insights into nutrition in times gone by. The vegetable and animal remains of the food rot easily. Therefore, the finds of charred or fossil crops are of great value. Dung heaps and latrines are also specifically examined by archaeobotanists for research into nutrition in the Middle Ages.


In the various layers of sediment in the lake bed, archaeologists find pollen from fruit, vegetables and grains that were grown in the Middle Ages. With the samples taken, the scientists in the laboratory can determine, among other things, how often the cultivated plant species occurred in the area.

Meager food in the early Middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages, people were self-sufficient and mainly fed on what the natural environment offered them. Depending on the geographic conditions, people had few foods to choose from. Archaeological finds show that only a few crops were planted in the settlements in the early Middle Ages. Vegetables were rarely on the table. There were peas and the horse bean (vicia faba). Excavations show that the horse bean was an important food for the farmers in some areas. Today it is only known as animal feed.

The "eternal rye cultivation" of the Middle Ages

The most widely prepared dish in the Middle Ages was in all likelihood the unsweetened oatmeal prepared with water. Grain was a staple food and its cultivation was often affected by bad harvests and floods. As a result, the common people in particular had to go hungry. In addition to the cereal porridge, grits and bread were important foods. The grains were distributed very differently from area to area. Barley, oats and millet were planted in most of the regions. Wheat was also grown north of the Alps during the time of the Roman Empire. Grain cultivation only expanded rapidly during the Middle Ages, with the introduction of rye. Today one speaks of the "eternal rye cultivation" since the 10th century. In the early Middle Ages, flax was mainly grown to extract oil. To supplement the meager diet, humans gathered fruits and seeds in the nearby forests.

Variety of grains

Together with einkorn, emmer is one of the oldest cultivated cereals. In addition to spelled and the almost forgotten millet, these cultivated plants were also eaten in the Middle Ages. Depending on the area, barley, wheat and oats were also grown. In the Middle Ages there was a greater variety of grains than today.

Meat as a source of protein

The species population of domestic animals in the Middle Ages was the same as it is today. Cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, but also horses and poultry were kept and eaten. As is the case today, there was also hunted game and fishing. The protein requirement was largely met with meat and fish.

Author: Ana Rios

Status: January 14, 2015, 3:18 p.m.