The Middle East—

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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The Middle East— Egypt and the Fertile Crescent countries, with Arabia as a late-joining partner—is where agriculture began around 11,000 years ago with the domestication of that versatile grain, wheat, which has figured ever since in so many sweets and pastries. It is also where literature began 4,500 years ago, but early scribes gave regrettably little thought to our curiosity about what they ate.

For instance, š‘-t, one of the scores of ancient Egyptian words that can be translated as “bread,” might have been sweetened with dates or date juice, or maybe not. The Babylonians made something called qullupu for the monthly Eshshēshu festival, and from context we can be sure it was made with honey, linseed oil, or dried fruits, but was it a sweetened bread, a fried pastry, or a rich pudding? The Hittites were a little more forthcoming about their baked goods, but they often represented the names with Sumerian logograms such as NIN.DA4, rather than spelling them out in Hittite, so we do not know what they actually called them, which might have cast some light on what they were like. Fortunately, what seems to be a translation of NIN.LÁL into the related Luvian language, malitiwallas kuisa, gives a little clue, because it means “honey bread (shaped like a) fang.”