Eggs and the Traditional Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Diet

Information featured in “What is the Mediterranean Diet?” – An educational handout created by Oldways and its Mediterranean Foods Alliance, in collaboration with the Egg Nutrition Center.

 Eggs have played a supporting role in the Mediterranean Diet for thousands of years. Ancient Phoenicians who lived in the Mediterranean region three thousand years ago kept chickens among their barnyard animals. An ancient mosaic style known as “Unswept Floor,” popular in the 2nd century BC, depicts food remnants from Roman banquets, including egg shells, indicating the use of eggs at even the finest of meals.

One of the earliest known cookbooks, De Re Coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”) by Apicius from 4th or 5th-century Rome, includes a wide range of dishes similar to today’s quiches and custards, where eggs are used to bind together vegetables, berries, fish, nuts, and other popular ingredients.

It is no wonder eggs were widely appreciated. At a time without refrigeration, chickens were the gift that kept on giving, offering their regular and predictable bounty of fresh eggs without any need for slaughter. The prevalence of chickens meant a ready supply of eggs for use in everyday cooking and during special occasions for the many cultures that have called the Mediterranean home.

Throughout history and throughout the Mediterranean region, from Turkey to Morocco, from Portugal to Greece, eggs have appeared as ingredients in both simple and complex dishes, providing richness of flavor and contributing nutrients. Eggs are used in soups, stews and porridges, in pastas, sauces, breads and cakes, and even in drinks.

The use of eggs in regional cuisine has persisted all the way to today. Eggs make star appearances in dishes such as omelets (like the Arab eggah, Italian frittata, and Spanish tortilla), salade Ni?oise from Provence, and the Greek chicken soup with egg-lemon sauce known as avgolemono. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa people enjoy shakshuka, poached eggs in tomato sauce. Eggs also appear as appetizers throughout the region, and in sweet custards to celebrate special occasions.

Packed with a number of nutrients, eggs have always been an important part of Mediterranean cuisine. They are enjoyed in tandem with fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, oils, seafood and meat, and fragrant spices. Try making some of the dishes mentioned above to discover how well the traditional foods of the Mediterranean fit into today’s tastes and lifestyles.

Check out the educational handout What is the Mediterranean Diet? here

For an egg-cellent Mediterranean recipe, try Mediterranean Cobb Salad with Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, a recipe made in collaboration with the Culinary Institute of America.

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