Greece and Rome

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Leavened loaves of bread arrived fairly late along the northern rim of the Mediterranean. Bread wheat was not grown in Greece until about 400 BCE, and flat barley breads were probably the norm well after. We do know that the Greeks enjoyed breads and cakes flavored with honey, anise, sesame, and fruits, and that they made both whole-grain and partly refined breads. At least from the Greeks on, whiteness in bread was a mark of purity and distinction. Archestratus, a contemporary of Aristotle and author of the Gastronomia, a compendious account of ancient Mediterranean eating whose title gave us the word “gastronomy,” accorded extravagant praise to a barley bread from the island of Lesbos on just these grounds, calling it “bread so white that it outdoes the ethereal snow in purity. If the celestial gods eat barley bread, no doubt Hermes goes to Eresus to buy it for them.”