The rich, dark soil left during the annual flooding of the Nile gave ancient Egyptians an agricultural advantage as they were able to grow a variety of grains and vegetables in abundance. The Nile provided fish and wild birds and the ancient Egyptians domesticated livestock for meat. Common people did not eat as well as the rich, but they were probably well fed. Meals were usually accompanied by beer, but the very rich drank wine. Banquets were frequently held and food was an important part of the festivals and other celebrations. Some foods were prepared using an oven under which a fire was built. The surface of the oven had open holes and circular depressions of different thicknesses and sizes, which allowed food to be cooked at different temperatures.
From the predynastic period forward, cereal grains made into breads were the base of the ancient Egyptian diet. Flour was mixed with yeast, salt, spices, milk, and sometimes butter and eggs. The dough was kneaded with the hands or sometimes with the feet in large containers. At first, bread was cooked like a pancake. Later it was placed in a baking mold or patted into different shapes, such as long or round rolls or figures for ceremonial purposes. Thick loaves were sometimes hollowed and filled with beans or vegetables. Flat bread was made with raised edges to hold eggs or other fillings. Bread might also be sweetened with honey, dates, and other fruit. Aside from bread, ancient Egyptians ate beans, chick peas, lentils, green peas, Egyptian lettuce, leeks, garlic, and onions. Dates were the most popular fruit. They were often dried to be eaten later or fermented into wine. Pomegranates, figs, and grapes were common fruits. Watermelons and plums are referred to in New Kingdom tombs and peaches may have been introduced in the Ptolemaic period.
Meat, fish, and wild fowl were frequently consumed by the rich, but only by the common people during special occasions. Several types of fish from the Nile were not consumed because of their connections with gods. Fish were usually salted and preserved or dried in the sun, roasted, or boiled. Beef was frequently eaten by the upper classes, while the poor might slaughter a sheep or goat on occasion. Pigs were eaten, but more in Lower Egypt than Upper Egypt due to their association with the evil god Seth. Wild game such as deer, antelope, ibex, and gazelles was also eaten. Scenes depicting the production of dairy products such as milk, cheese, and butter appear beginning in the Nineteenth Dynasty.
To prepare food, the ancient Egyptians used fat from animals and oils from plants and seeds such as sesame, caster-oil, flax seed, and horseradish. Salt from the Siwa Oasis was used, but sea salt was avoided because of its association with the evil god Seth. Pepper was introduced during the Greco-Roman period. Herbs and spices including aniseed, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, fenugreek, marjoram, mustard, and thyme were used.