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Cooking a Babylonian recipe from a 4,000-year-old clay tablet

J-P Mauro - published on 06/27/18

Watch as dishes from the Cradle of Civilization are brought back to life.

A recent culinary event hosted by New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World saw the revival of ancient recipes from the world over. Featured at the expo were three dishes taken from 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian tablets, also known as the “Yale Culinary Tablets,” as they are part of Yale’s extensive Babylonian collection.

Agnete Lassen, associate curator of Yale’s Babylonian Collection, and colleague Chelsea Alene Graham, a digital imaging specialist, led the team through the cooking process, showing off a 3D-printed replica of one of the tablets. The original is far too old and valuable to be taken from the Yale archives.

Agnete and Chelsea worked with chef Nawal Nasrallah and a crew from Harvard to create three dishes: a vegetarian bowl of “Unwinding Stew,” a milk-based “Broth of Lamb,” and a beet and lamb stew called “Tuh’i.” Of the three dishes, the favorite appeared to be “Tuh’i,” while Chelsea couldn’t stop remarking about how bad the “Broth of Lamb” was.

The palate of the ancient Mesopotamians was dominated by oils and fats, while they used salt sparingly. They also commonly used animal blood as an ingredient to thicken their stews. These are just some of the factors that may explain why the “Broth of Lamb” seemed inedible.

In a 1988 interview with the New York Times, William W. Hallo, former Yale Professor Emeritus of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature, noted that due to the special ingredients and the complicated process of cooking, these dishes were most likely reserved for special occasions and only enjoyed by the elite class.

The team from Yale mentioned that this is the oldest recipe in the world, but Open Culture notes that there may be an older one. Researchers from the University of Wales claim to have a recipe that dates back 6,000 years. This recipe is for a pudding made from nettles, ground barley, and water.

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