The First Recipes

No one knows exactly when the first recipes were created, but the idea of preparing foods for good flavor probably took hold after people began growing crops and keeping livestock. Before that, hunting and scavenging for food probably took so much time and energy that people gave little thought to what the food tasted like.


Fun Facts

  • For thousands of years, early man hunted animals and gathered roots, nuts, and berries. These hunter-gatherers ate their food raw.
  • Sometime around 50,000 BC (possibly earlier), man discovered that food could be roasted over a fire. Researchers have speculated that this discovery probably came by accident when people noticed that animals caught in fire gave off a delicious aroma—and tasted good too.
  • Roasting foods can make them more nutritious and easier to eat. Later, people discovered that they could cook food in pots filled with liquid and placed over the fire. This discovery probably led to the creation of the first recipes. Now people could combine ingredients, such as meat and vegetables, to make a soup, or grain and water to make a porridge.
  • As people gained experience in cooking, they probably began adding seasonings and herbs for flavor.
  • The first recipes were based on local and seasonal foods. In many parts of the world, barley or another grain was a staple food, eaten every day and probably at every meal. People ate legumes, fruit, onions, and other vegetables. For most people, meat was a rarity and probably included wild game and birds. Fish was a popular food. Wealthier people ate lamb or goat.
  • The oldest known written recipes come from Mesopotamia and were written on clay tablets 2,000 years ago. These recipes might have been for foods that were prepared for the gods.
  • Cookbooks came into their own during the Middle Ages when nobles often attended long, elaborate feasts. The first cookbooks were written for the kitchen staff of the upper classes. These cookbooks were also a way for the nobility to show off.
  • After the invention of the printing press, cookbooks for everyone began to appear. These cookbooks were often divided into two types: recipes for the wealthy and recipes for everyone else.
  • Some of the most famous cookbooks were written as guides for women who were gentility. These women were responsible for large households and instructed their staff on everything from preserving food to making soap to managing livestock.
  • Early American cookbooks usually offered simple recipes like baked beans, pumpkin custard, and soda bread.
  • Today, cookbook publishing is a huge business. Thousands of cookbooks on a variety of topic are published every year.

Learn More

View a cookbook written for Queen Elizabeth and published in 1390.