Part 15: Food: How Healthy Was Medieval Food?

today I am a knight at home we saw in the last episode a what a knight might eat on his journeys around his demesnes now he's at home with his household and more sophistication and Chris is going to take us through some of the things and some of the aspects of diet that are quite surprising so Chris of to you well today Jason I am your your cook and your general looker after her in a nightly household a man's cook would work very closely with his physician ah so the beard team looking after the the noble for the night yes I think you've got to keep your knight fighting fit right medieval medicine was all a bit strange they had the theory of the four humors hot cold wet dry absolutely everything was related in some way to one of these properties ah so food might be hot and dry yeah okay so spices are usually considered to be hot and dry things like herbs and green leafy vegetables are cold and wet okay that makes sense but then you get on to root vegetables which are considered to be cold and dry because they are of the earth phase some of it doesn't make a lot of sense but your physician in the morning would come and see you he might feel your head to check your temperature he would take a specimen of your urine it's really hold it up to load he would hold it up check it for color clarity and he would also check it for taste taste taste urine yes somebody else's yes right well this is because they were even in the Middle Ages aware of something they called the honey disease which is diabetes and that makes your urine sweet so whilst they didn't know what caused it if you have overly sweet urine you would be expected to abstain from sweetened foods so interesting so they even they knew the symptoms of what we now know is diabetes and they knew what to do too stop it happening cut an odds job really probably quite well-paid if you're going to be tasting somebody else's a we in the morning oh there are even order jobs now we've got bread yes but I can see now very clearly there that's quite different this is very definitely white bread it is isn't it so it's it's highly refined flour and still not made with modern wheat so it's not bread as we understand this actually made with spelt flour right I'm spell T's and ancient grains lowering gluten is it a bit less health before you do you think when we're thinking in terms of diet generally the medieval upper classes had by far a worse diet than those we saw earlier living in their peasant cottage eating their nice fresh fish that bit of green yes and they're nice rile barley bread and we go up into the status for spending more money and more fancy cutlery more fancy kind of glassware and bowls and arguably worse quality food from the health perspective obviously from their perspective it was much better food because it was more expensive more refined and it showed your social status as wasn't it in a Knightly household you would probably have at this point your own bake oven right and your bread would be baked regularly so somebody would get up early in the morning very early in the morning get the bread oven has started and then actually put the bread on for everybody's breakfast yes and it would be the entire household right which could be several hundred people that's a lot of bread it is it is your bread as as the night the lord of the manor would be cooked in the upper part of the oven so it would be less likely to be burnt right and you would have the first slice off the top which is of course the upper crust which is where that's that phrase comes from fantastic there you go you see learn something every day that's always important what is what is this that's what the day we've called pudding right that's pears in the spiced wine it is basically Christmas in a bulb mmm does smell quite Christmassy yes so that that would that have spices and that's got yes sort of spice that's got lots of this got cinnamon it's got cloves it's got nutmeg it's got mace it's got all sorts of really good spices in it and there was originally a large quantity of red wine it also has sugar in it but why is a pudding on the table at the same time has got bread we don't have our main course yet or any courses as such in the Middle Ages you had what we called removes so you would have on your table you might have a soup you would have meat you would have fish you would have sweet dishes and you could help yourself to any of these things in any order so you'd sit down and they'd all be placed around you yeah then you have a bit of this and a bit of that as your taste as your taste what have you got actually cooking here for us in in the pot in the cottage in the potage yeah but we have yet more pottage right the beans are a crossover food so you're going to have some more beans with leeks and bacon but you also have rabbit rabbit and wood I have hunted the rabbit or would it be brought to me by somebody else you may well in your downtime have gone out and hunted a rabbit or to your of the status that was allowed to have rabbits so we have my own rabbit yes you'd have your own rabbit warren rabbits at this point weren't roaming free they were actually carefully controlled in in rabbit warrens looked after by somebody called a Warren er we have got a strongbox made of oak lots of bits of metal over it to protect very precious content so what do we what have we got in here we have in here some of the most precious commodities in medieval times particularly in medieval England is a spice chest oh wow probably lolis nutmegs right these I who were told at some stage were twice their weight in gold is that nonsense or no they were hugely valuable that the period we're talking about sort of the 14th 15th century for nutmegs would cost what a labourer would earn in a day working for about a penny inch well you might know these cardamom pods so these are used in cooking they were also used as a breath freshener right because we're talking you know the days before minty fresh toothpaste because there is quite a crossover between medicine and spices as well because I think cloves are quite good for teeth aren't they the oil of cloves even today I think is used they're very good for toothache I have this one which is not cinnamon it's a place relatively cinnamon it's called cassia right and we have several peppers and these you would probably recognize as being ordinary peppercorns all right these are I can find a good one it's a good one okay these were the first sort of pepper that came into this country and the Romans brought us these it's a type of pepper and it's long so what do you think it might imagine Sibley recalled all pepper absolutely wonderful and you use this in exactly the same way these little chaps here these are also a type of peppercorn right these are called grains of paradise grains of paradise as if modern modern marketing is not a modern things or so they call these grains paradise to probably doubled the price yes yes because particularly with the medieval mind paradise was associated with the Garden of Eden with ease and luxury so Jerusalem was over there in the center of one of the most exotic spices in here is this one is it sugar it is sugar oh that's just raw sugar cane you have to grate it right it's a physical work to actually get this sugar off and was that very valuable as well one of the most expensive spices in that box hundreds of pounds worth yes that fan saffron so this is what somebody of high status would have as their total collection of very expensive yeah very well-protected this probably goes in the strong room with the gold yes the keys are on the the lady of the manors belt at all times because it's that expensive this represents many many hours of an ordinary person's were probably years worth yes absolutely and the equivalents of many thousands of pounds yeah probably tens of thousands pounds actually you're gonna go and put a judicious quantity of appropriate spices into the going to grind up a few things because we are only a nightly household we're not a noble household right so we're not going to over spice our food yes so we're going to just have a few spices with our rabbit we'll have a few peppercorns a little bit of mace this one which looks like bark yes this is called galangal or gambling Gale and it's a relative of ginger okay so we'll have a few bits of that and a couple of cloves and you want me to just grind them up into to grind those just for a bit depending on your status you'd have different people doing different jobs I presume actually doing spices was probably been I a kind of more kind of what it wouldn't have been a junior job with it having anything to do with spices was a senior cooks job right and of course in in all nearly all medieval houses all the cooks were men well they yeah how interesting certainly in the Great Houses you know obviously you know our peasant house and our farmers house it would be a housewife doing all the cooking on the moon we're out doing the hard work right would David portage special specialists and things like that it oh yes you have your fancy cook from foreign parts there were many evil celebrity chefs no much-sought-after bishops would poach chefs from other bishops Kings would poach cooks from from bishops I was there was quite a merry-go-round so we think of celebrity chefs is a modern for and he really isn't this it's been going on for hundreds thousands of years right lovely wonderful thank you I'm going to pop these spices that jason has so beautifully ground for me into the pot which contains our rabbit the dates we chopped up earlier and some wine so we've obviously got quite high-status expensive glassware like the looks of it obviously all handmade as everything would have been yes this glassware would have been hand blown in either Italy so even then glass was coming from Murano right or from what would stay called the Czech Republic or Bohemia we were very good in this country in in Britain at stained glass flat glass we weren't very good at blowing it so again this has come a long way like this spices this has traveled that obviously glass is quite fragile so presume it's more expensive to the food absolutely yes and this is very much a status symbol so we've got spoon knife yes I don't see a fork so we know a Forks at this period but they're not in common use in England they're considered to be nasty foreign French things and we don't like the French so we don't use Forks they were actually invented in Italy in the 13th century they took a while to come here we might use a fork Furi for something like a stewed fruit or to study in meat if it was being carved is that occurred a big thing it's hugely important right you would actually bring your own cutlery with you to a banquet unless it was somebody who was royal and then they might have spoons especially cast for the occasion little finial on the souvenir spoon yes you would use your knife to to cut your meat or your bread you're allowed to steady it with your left hand but you don't put your left hand anywhere near your mouth it's because you use your left hand for something far less savory as they still doing in many companies today yes yes so you chop your food into it then put the knife down to use your knife to convey your food to your mouth so you could sort of jab it and yes gosh and the the spoon would be used for sort of dishes you couldn't stab with the knife yeah and fingers could use fingers for things yes yeah but right hand only right hand only and you would have your napkin over your right shoulder so that you could wipe your fingers between bites or courses so you just run on your clothes you'd wipe it on that which is a you have a look at this yes sort of a like a tea towel it's quite long isn't it yeah and then that goes over your right shoulder thus so you look a bit like a sommelier yep yeah so I would be so good I would chop things up jab them or grab them like this eat and then yes so this is gonna get lucky with juices and everything absolutely sand and it is on trestle tables so the tables were temporary over put up for the occasion and then taken down and the hole was used for something else yes we think that flat packed for furniture is another modern invention it's not so should we have a look at because the food so far has been lovely and I'm sure this is going to be lovely too as you can see your your bread this time is wrapped all right it has to be covered because it is yours yes trench your bread bit a rabbit there we go that looks lovely and another bit of rub it a bit of being hurt – there's more than I don't think I can eat much more yeah I can see why you need to use your hand to steady it hmm get some spices with it Oh wrong hand yeah yeah yeah there were all sorts of other rules of etiquette so you weren't supposed to sit too close to the person next to you on the bench right and they were rules about obviously things that we think are bad manners these days like picking your nose and belching conversation was encouraged but it was supposed to be at a subdued level so when you see in the Hollywood movies people getting raucous and throwing food and generally behaving badly that's the sort of thing that would get you in a big household relegated to second sitting and second sitting is when you get the leftovers tastes like Christmas rabbit actually so I'm describing it I think I need something to drink I don't what's this this is claret it doesn't look like claret no at all medieval claret is a white spiced wine that's really nice as well so similar type of spices again that sort of it's echoing yes the food quite nicely but it's um hmm I have to say though this food is kind of more more refined but almost feels less hearty in some ways I mean it's um we talked about the peasant food earlier the peasant food was lovely and it sort of feels wholesome missus starting to feel quite sophisticated what's fascinating about this meal is that we got sweet and we've got savory we've got wines the groups of spices all go together the pudding and the main course being served at the same time in fact from a taste perspective actually works quite well and I suppose from a medieval health perspective that was might have been similar well this is obviously your physician has decided that you are feeling slightly wet and cold today and that you need warming up with some hot dry spices then this is starting to get a bit sugary heavily spiced it's a bit complicated it's lovely it probably takes a lot longer to prepare as well of course and costs a fortune but for my taste I would go with the peasant food but of course that would be a hideous faux pas if I was a knight back in medieval times thank you for watching please like us subscribe and use that notification button and we will be doing some more food stuff next time moving up still further into the ranks to the top echelon of society this stuff is great I wonder what's going to be served to me next


  1. Never knew about the right-hand rule in medieval Britain, thought it was strictly an Islamic thing.

  2. When I was young my mom would take us to the store, Boys Market. They would have chicken wings for .29 to .39 cents a pound. Some times it would be cheaper. I love those days when nobody liked that part of the chicken. We would buy big bags of it. I still love my wings.

  3. It depends who you were. Peasants were more offen healthier than their royal counterparts. Peasants ate vegetables, where royals wouldn't eat it, because in their minds vegetables were lower class food. The royals had an all fatty meat diet.

  4. I don't want to be picky but surely (right at the start) the word 'demesne' is said (much) like 'domain', and not dem-es-nee?
    I enjoyed the video – not trying to be destructive.

  5. That type of sugar is formed when Sugarcane juice is heated. Juice is heated in the vessel on furnace. When it solidifies, it becomes like this.

  6. This wonderful woman is ripe for a makeover. She has a fetching personality and great to listen to. Enjoyed her expertise on the subject. In fact the guy would scrub up nicely too if I could get my hands on him.

  7. Demesne…I thought it was pronounced similar to "domain". Was it pronounced differently in the Middle Ages?

  8. Seems to me, the trend for good quality food is: Gathered and eaten on the same day, perhaps preserved for the next 3. Anything preserved for more than 5 days has probably lost most of its pizazz, and is almost no longer worth eating from a nutritional point of view (of course you could still eat it, but its lost its fresh by then). Of course, you probably could preserve it for longer, given it's very thorough preservation, but you'd still preserve it for a short amount of time. Especially compared to how long we preserve things now.

    So fresh food, raised properly, and an omnivorous diet seem to be what we're missing in the modern, "advanced" world.

  9. It's funny to see rabbit considered higher class food. Here in America rabbits, squirrels and the like were considered the absolute lowest food, bc they were available everywhere, ran in the dirt and had no fat, which is why the American explorers had "rabbit starvation," a condition of failing health due to lack of fat, the primary macronutrient necessary for human nutrition.

  10. He knows his food. A successful Gentleman who has eaten at the table with Her Majesty the queen Elizabeth II herself

  11. Over 700,000 views, you know you are doing something right when you have nearly a million pople turn up to watch your programme

  12. The Middle Ages, when Doctors would actually earn those big paychecks…doing urinalysis tests, with their taste buds.

  13. Damnation, I am sick of this video showing up in my youTube feed everyday! Maybe if I let it run it will go away.

  14. Beans in the middle ages? Tbh should specify what do they mean as beans came from the Americas and in Europe there were only broadbeans, chickpeas and lentils, and blackeyed peas, all not real beans

  15. Back then Peasants had better health because sweets were expensive. Now anyone can get a honeybun for 50 cents to a dollar. Anyone can have sweets now, but more people are more unhealthy. Funny how that works.

  16. Hot cold wet dry…. they have similar concepts in Chinese medicina and Ayurveda… not so strange after all I'd say.

  17. To be sure, the word "demesne" isn't actually pronounced as it is spelled; rather as "duh-main" or "duh-meen."

  18. We ate cow's boiled tongue as kids because it was "cheap".  

    It was disgusting – it was sort of fuzzy (NOT like corned beef like my mother suggested) and would be served with chilled beetroot that would bleed into the tongue and the overly buttery/creamy sloppy mash potato……errrk…

  19. Great video is there a recipe? One teeny tiny nitpick: If the glass came from Merano then it wasn't from Italy. At least not at that time. Tyrolean glass was very sought after at that time.

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