The food consumed during the Middle Ages was very different from our modern times. To start with, the medieval society didn’t have refined tastes. The Middle Ages food was very simple, basic and mostly home-grown.
In the starting period of the Middle Ages, the Romans had influenced the food culture. This was the period when the Normans hadn’t invaded England.
Food Habits and Peculiarities of the Nobles
The people of those ages didn’t eat a balanced or healthy diet. The rich wealthy nobles did not like to eat fresh fruits or raw vegetables, which were considered to be unprepared food fit only for the peasant class. Fruit was only consumed when it was preserved in honey or converted into pies.
The poor people ate vegetables and fruits that grew in their backyard. They poor segment of the society made soup, stew, and pottage with the vegetables.
Similarly, vegetables which originated from the ground were also untouched by the rich and wealthy nobles. Rich royals and nobles only used vegetables such as onions, garlic, rape, and leeks. Dairy products too did not hold the fancy of the nobles and were considered as inferior foods.
Fresh vegetables and dairy items were only consumed by the poor people and they remained active and healthy. People of the medieval era had no much knowledge about wholesome foods or healthy nutrition.
As they avoided many nutritious foodstuffs, nobles lacked essential vitamins and fibre. Due to this, they suffered from numerous health issues like bad breath, decaying teeth, skin diseases, bone deformities, and scurvy.
Food Chart of the Upper-Class Nobles
The wealthy landlords and nobles indulged in different varieties of food, but only a tiny portion of food was actually consumed. A dramatic change in food culture was brought about by travelling crusades.
They introduced exotic food preparation styles and beautiful food arrangements with rich colours and flavourings. The nobles slowly started to have overly spiced foods.
The expensive spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, saffron, ginger, pepper, coriander, turmeric, anise, mustard, and garlic were highly preferred by the wealthy.
Diet Chart of Nobility
Meats such as beef, venison, pork, goat, rabbit, lamb, hare, swans, herons, chicken, mutton
Freshwater fishes and saltwater fishes like salmon, eel, cod, trout, and herring
Manchet best-quality leaven loaves of bread
Crabs, oysters, cockles
Few varieties of vegetables
Different varieties of cheese
Food Choices of the Lower Class Peasants
The food of the poor people and lower classes were mostly homegrown fruits and vegetables. They could not afford the rich spices and meat like deer-meat, rabbits, and hare. Only the nobles and lords had the right to hunt such animals. Illegal poachers were given death sentences or were maimed for life.
The Staple Simple Diet of Lower Classes
Barley and rye loaves of bread
Different types of stews
Dairy products like butter, milk, cottage cheese, yoghurt, sour cream
Meats such as beef and pork
Fishes (if they could get freshwater fishes or salt-water fishes)
Herbs, fruits, and vegetables that were grown in their backyard
Nuts and honey
Middle Ages Drink Choices
The turbulent Dark Ages housed primitive people who lacked proper food knowledge and elegance. Water sources were not very clean and people preferred to drink wine, ale, mead or cider.
Rich nobles preferred drinking expensive wines. The poor or lower classes drank ale, mead, and cider, while the rich could afford to buy different types of costly wines.
Norman Influence & Economical Changes
The influence of the Normans in changing the food culture was evident by the inclusion of Scandinavian and French foods. Normans also documented several recipes and had a more refined or stylish approach in food arrangements. Normans also introduced the tradition of having lavish meals and feasts during special occasions.
Change in the economy also influenced the food culture during the Middle Ages. Trade and travel flourished and people became more aware of the different types of food culture prevalent in the world. The spices exported from Eastern countries became very popular among the English and Normans.
These spices led to further division and differences between the foods consumed by the rich and poor people. Meat and spices were seen as a sign of wealth.
The Black Death and Food Changes
The quantity of food available during the medieval period saw a drastic change in the year 1328. The destructive effects of the Black Death spread all across Europe and the population steadily declined, leaving more than 200 million people dead or dying.
Black Death ravaged England in 1346 and resulted in a dwindling population. With less population and fewer mouths to feed, food was available to all and even the lower classes had access to good food and meats.