A Brief History of Breakfast

As I was doing some research on the topic of breakfast (i.e. how soon should you eat after waking up, intermittent fasting vs. several small meals a day…stay tuned!), I came across some interesting articles and videos on how breakfast evolved throughout history in the western world.

Let’s start with Ancient Egypt. it is said that peasants only ate one meal a day, likely in the morning before they work in the fields for the pharaohs. Similarly, in Ancient Greece, people ate breakfast not long after sun-rise in preparation for a labor-intensive day. Their breakfast contained barley bread dipped in wine, olives, figs, and even pancakes! I wonder how different their pancake is compared to what we have here today 🙂

Some literatures show that Ancient Romans had breakfast (“Jentaculum” in their word) anywhere from 4am to 10am, and their breakfast food of choice was usually leftover from the night before (bread, cheese, olives, cold meats…). However, it’s said that they likely focus on a big heavy dinner (no wonder the abundance of leftover!).

In the beginning of European Middle Ages, breakfast was almost non-existent – they focused on two big meals, one at mid day and another at night.

In the 13th century, the Catholics even criticized eating breakfast as a sin as it’s over-indulgence and gluttony (sin of eating too soon) and so people were ashamed of having breakfast. However, the exception is that noble travellers were permitted to have breakfast when they were away from home. Their breakfast may contain rye bread, cheese and low-alcohol ale but no meat.

By the 15th – 16th century, breakfast slowly became more and more usual and embraced for the higher class. That was also when meat and caffeinated beverages started to come to the breakfast table (well that one stuck!). Interestingly, Native Americans encountered by early European colonists chose their breakfast time and food based on food supplies, availabilities and seasons, rather than restricted to a specific time of day or any food staples (oh, how that have changed today!).

However, it was in the Industrial Revolution when the general public really started to shift towards a 3-meals-a-day routine as they adjusted to their work day schedule in the industrial word.

Fast forward to today, our breakfast food options are endless – food can be made available throughout the year and from across the world. That is just fascinating (and on the other hand can be problematic to our health as more and more studies show). While some people enjoy breakfast staples like cold cereals and milk or a hot bowl of oatmeal, we are seeing lots of changes in the food we eat for breakfast as new research in the health world come out and as influenced by diets around the world.

In terms of breakfast time, I believe many of us grew up having breakfast within a couple hours after waking up as that was what we were taught to do. As we’re “adulting”, some of us become “too busy” to have breakfast and tend to skip this meal (or eat while driving to work, which we really shouldn’t be doing…). Now intermittent fasting and bio-hacking is also gaining a lot of attention – but it’s really nothing new, several cultures have been practicing that since long ago (think of Ramadan).

Here’s an interesting video on part of the history of breakfast and how breakfast food choice in the modern days may have been affected by a few marketing schemes and even biased research.

More interesting read – How an Accidental Invention Changed What Americans Eat for Breakfast https://www.history.com/news/cereal-breakfast-origins-kellogg

Another history lesson from BBC!

Here’s a Food Insider video that shows what breakfast is like around the world.

Another entertaining video that shows kids’ reaction when trying breakfast food from other cultures.


Should You Eat Breakfast? How Soon Should You Eat After Waking Up?

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