The Mesopotamian Enigma: Ancient Meat and Nut Recipes from Around the World

Ancient Meat and Nut Recipes from Around the World
Eben van Tonder
11 July 2023


The combination of Meat and Nuts is one of the oldest meat recipes in existence.

See other work on the subject:

The relationship between nuts and meat is not always direct. In West Africa, the oil from nuts is used in frying the meat after it has been cooked, which is the main way of preserving meat along with sun drying it. See Plant Oil in Ancient West Africa. What is left after the oil has been extracted is often combined with dried meat as is the case in Nigerian Kalishi. In the document, I explore the combination of meat and nuts globally.

What is the Relationship Between Nut Meal (oil pressed out) or Nuts with Oil unpressed and Meat Preservation?

A question comes up as to what the possible reason is for the link between nuts and meat. The answer, I believe is in the nature of nuts and what it has been used for in West Africa for millennia. Nuts are a source of nutrition and oil. Using nuts in combination with meat will have the following advantages related to preservation:

  1. Absorption of moisture: The nut-meal (what is left after the oil has been extracted) absorbs moisture from meat, helping to reduce the overall moisture content. Lower moisture levels will inhibit the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms that cause spoilage. This absorption effect will contribute to a longer shelf life for the meat dish. Meat, rubbed in peanut-meal or any other nut-meal, will dry faster when left in the sun. It makes sense that techniques were developed in West Africa, around the present day Nigeria where the relative humidity is extremely high and the temperatures are equally elevated through the year compared with European countries.
  2. Protective coating: If the nuts are ground, or crushed, if the oil has not been extracted, this will result in the meat receiving an oil coating from the crust nuts. This outer layer can create a barrier between the meat and the external environment, providing some protection against spoilage agents, such as bacteria or insects.
  3. Flavour masking: What will happen if the preservation properties of dehydrating and sealing have been less effective and an off-flavour develops? In such an event, nuts remain an ideal choice but now we focus on their role as masking agents. The addition of nuts with their distinctive flavours can help mask any slight off-flavours that may develop in the meat as it ages. By incorporating nuts into the dish, the taste of potentially spoiled meat can be somewhat concealed or altered, making it more palatable. In Southern Africa, meat with a slightly off flavour was rolled in ash for exactly this reason. There is evidence from tribes native to Namibia that meat was in any event rolled in ash before being roasted to gain the flavour provided by the ash. Nots will provide the same benefit whether the oil has been extracted or not.

Besides the preserving benefits of nuts and their function as a masking agent, what other possible reasons can there be for the marriage between nuts such as peanuts or groundnuts as it’s called in West Africa and meat? Here are a few.

  1. Flavour enhancement: Nuts, with their rich and distinct flavours, can complement the taste of meat dishes. This is linked to its function as masking agent to suppressing off-flavour notes, but it’s more than this. They add a nutty, earthy, or slightly sweet taste, which can enhance the overall flavour profile of the meat.
  2. Textural contrast: This function is particularly interesting to me personally since I love a “crunchiness” to meat. Nuts provide a contrasting texture to meat. While meat can be tender and juicy, nuts are typically crunchy or chewy. This textural interplay can create a more interesting and enjoyable eating experience.
  3. Nutritional value: Combining nuts and meat can provide a well-rounded nutritional profile. Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, while nuts are rich in healthy fats, dietary fibre, and various essential nutrients. By incorporating both into a dish, it can offer a broader range of nutrients.
  4. Extending the meat: In ancient times, when meat was a precious and expensive resource, combining it with nuts allowed for its stretching. Nuts could be used as a filler to increase the volume of the dish, making it more satisfying and economical.

Nuts have been married to various meat dishes around the world. Here we examine them. Please contact me with similar dishes I omitted. I purposefully feature ancient recipes and processes to show how pervasive this technology was globally.

The Kalasha People of Pakistan

The Kalasha (Kalasha: کالؕاشؕا, romanised: Kaḷaṣa), or Kalash, are an Indo-Aryan indigenous people residing in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The Kalasha are a unique people living in just three valleys near Chitral, Pakistan, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan … However, it is much more likely, given their Indo-Aryan language, that the religion of the Kalasha is much more closely aligned with the Hinduism of their Indian neighbours than to the religion of Alexander the Great and his armies. (West, 2010)

Their cuisine is unique.

  • The Mos au (meat bread) is made by putting small pieces of meat and ground-up walnut meats with some sour pomegranate juice and coriander into the dough and baking it on a griddle until it is firm, then putting it under the ashes until it has finished baking;
Here is a Japanese version of the MOS Burger with a Rice Burger Bun.

Imran Kabir, writing for the Kalashatimes reports that “regarding meat, the Kalash eat all meats, but the sacrifices are only made of sheep, goats, caws or dears and stags in the past. No other animal is used for sacrifices. Women are not allowed to eat the male goat meat in some ceremonies like the meat of some sacrifices and the honey brought from barns in high places.” Other noteworthy traditions are, “Men are not allowed to eat the bread from the ceremony done to make the women pure. This ceremony is called “s’is’ au karik”. Wine is made and drunk by both men and women. Wine is also used in religious ceremonies. Long ago people stored them in some big containers made of stones, like the containers used to store grains.”

Burghul from Mesopotamia (Ellison, 1984)

What is fascinating is the process that Rosemary Ellison (1984) describes from ancient Mesopotamia. The resultant product is the same as nut-meal. “Whole grains are boiled in open vessels with as little water as possible until they are soft. They are then spread out in the sun to dry. Burghul keeps well. When it is required for eating it can be prepared by steaming or boiling; only a small amount of liquid is needed. The burghul can then be eaten with oil, meat or vegetables or it can be added to soup.” (Ellison, 1984) The process of rehydration and the subsequent use of previously dried food is exactly the process for rehydrating meat and its subsequent use in soup. I found the same practice from Southern Africa to the Himalayan mountains in Nepal. It seems that the method described was used for dried food generally and that humans, in antiquity, worked out the preserving value of the dehydration of food. In the Southern African context, we have traditions that meat that is re-hydrated in this way is mixed into soup with groundnuts. I am sure that the groundnuts used were treated in the same way after the oil has been extracted.

Please contact me with any input.


The Kalashatimes

West, Barbara A. (19 May 2010). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and OceaniaInfobase Publishing. p. 357. ISBN 9781438119137.

Ellison, Rosemary. “Methods of Food Preparation in Mesopotamia (c. 3000-600 BC).” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 27, no. 1, 1984, pp. 89–98. JSTOR, Accessed 13 July 2023.