VI. The Babylonian Culinary Documents

The First ‘Recipe Book’ in Human History

Appears in
Delights from the Garden of Eden

By Nawal Nasrallah

Published 2019

  • About

In 1933, Yale University acquired three Akkadian cuneiform tablets believed at first to be pharmaceutical formulas. A closer examination by the French Assyriologist Jean Bottéro revealed them to be the oldest cooking recipes known, probably written around 1700 bc in Babylonia. His discovery was published in the early 1980s. Despite some damage to the tablets, Bottéro finds enough text to reveal a cuisine of ‘striking richness, refinements, sophistication, and artistry,’ and concludes, ‘Previously we would not have dared to think a cuisine four thousand years old was so advanced’ (‘The Cuisine of Ancient Mesopotamia,’ pp.39–40). These Babylonian recipes are not inclusive of what constituted the entire ancient Mesopotamian cuisine. Bottéro assumes that they are just ‘strays from a huge collection,’ and speculates on ‘the possibility that a whole library of similar texts was devoted to the “science of cooking” (Mesopotamian Culinary Texts).