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Egyptian Grains, Yeasts and Flours


Walking into the Egyptian Museum under the watchful gaze of the pharaohs, the first thing you’ll notice is a series of photographs. The collection depicts a number of specialty foodstuffs: 34 in fact, which are all part of the Egyptian Slow Food Ark of Taste. Shot by Ahmed Elabd of Ma7sool Production, they combine to form an exhibition entitled From Sinai Wormwood to Farasheeh Bread: The Ark of Taste in Egypt.

Farasheeh bread is traditionally baked by Bedouins in the south of the Sinai peninsula from a dough of wheat flour, water and salt. If salt is lacking, the Bedouins use seawater from the nearby Red Sea, while those of the Sinai interior and the western desert use white crystals that they gather from a wild grass, known as “salt plant”.

Farasheeh is not Egypt’s only traditional bread. The Ark of Taste has other varieties, too. These include sorghum bread, fayesh, which is made with yeast from fermented dried and shelled chickpeas or lentils, merahrah, made from a paste of blended grain, sorghum and corn meal, shamsi, which is made with wheat flour, and zallut, made with sorghum flour and toasted fenugreek. Many others are likely to be added to the Ark as a testimony to a heritage of biodiversity that first laid its roots here thousands of years ago.

All this was explained by Alessia Fassone, curator of the Egyptian Museum, during her presentation on ancient Egyptian agriculture. From Egypt’s origins when agriculture was enriched by the climate and the water of the Nile, as were the country’s life and society. Evidence of the fertility and productivity of the land are reproduced in tomb paintings and in scores of miniature ornaments, some of which depict tiny figures grinding grain, kneading dough and baking bread. Ancient Egyptian agriculture was based on cereals: Einkorn and emmer wheat for bread making, barley for brewing, and, to a lesser degree, spelt, soft wheat and durum wheat. Bread and beer were so important they were used to pay workers in lieu of wages—as documented in the ‘Journal of the Theban Necropolis’—and were also given as offerings to the dead, as can be seen in the form of a huge quantity of loaves, some of them baked in fancy shapes, in the Tomb of Kha, discovered in 1906 and now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Turin.

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While ancient history demonstrates Egypt’s rich bread-making culture, today traditional loaves are few and far between. Slow Food Egypt delegate Mariam Adel Taher explained how bread production seed selection, storage and distribution is now controlled by the government. This translates into a loss not only of the autonomy of small farmers when it comes to selecting cultivars, but also of control over the use of land and local knowledge. Production is increasingly standardized, which means controlled costs and a lack of variety. Today, millions of tons of grain are distributed among 120 to 130 mills and bread is often made with powdered chemical yeast.

The difference between traditional and commercial breads is not only a matter of shape, color and flavor, but also of the nutritional quality. This was explained by Federico Francesco Ferrero, a surgeon, nutritionist and past winner of MasterChef Italia, who spoke of the properties of heritage grains—Einkorn and emmer wheats—whose kernels are wrapped in a fine husk. These grains had and have outstanding nutritional characteristics, such as low gluten content and reduced allergenic potential.

A  journey through time to rediscover traditional values thus becomes an invitation to rediscover traditional flavorstastier, healthier and more complex. You’ll find many of them at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, and especially at the Egyptian Museum.


An Event by
 Città di Torino
 Slow Food
 Regione Piemonte
In collaboration with
Mipaaf
With the contribution of
 
Official Partners
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Supporters of the Terra Madre Foundation and Slow Food
 
 
 
With the support of
 
 
 

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