What did you eat in the 1600s and 1700s?

The seventeenth century was the coldest century and with the greatest problems for the nutrition of European populations. Famines and pestilences also follow one another, also because populations tend to be undernourished are more prone to infectious diseases.

Meat consumption is progressively decreasing, with a relative increase in sheep meat. The consumption of fish is hampered by its perishable nature and by problems related to transport. As an alternative to fresh fish, the consumption of preserved fish increased, adding to smoked herring, salted or dried carp and cod, stockfish and cod, which became the substitute for meat for the popular classes.

The eighteenth-century is a very important century for agriculture, so much so that there is talk in this period of the “agricultural revolution”. This is because some crops so far little used are spread and are universally accepted: rice, buckwheat, corn, and potatoes. Buckwheat was very resistant and could also grow in fallow fields. Corn had a higher yield than rye and wheat. The potato grew underground.

The greater availability of some foods, such as corn and potatoes, foods of the popular classes, favored population growth, but also caused a negative relapse: the diet became monotonous and some diseases related to vitamin deficiencies appeared, such as pellagra.

It was precisely in the 1700s that nerve drinks (coffee, tea, chocolate) were very popular: sucrose, that is, industrially refined sugar was widely used with them.

Also in this century, the large kitchen stove with multiple burners was developed that allowed slow cooking, lively cooking, boiling, grilling, and soft fire, allowing a great leap forward in the preparation of meals.

Sugar and cinnamon were added to the chocolate, which arrived from Spain transported on the ships of Hernan Cortés in 1528, for the preparation of a sweet drink, the preparation of which remained secret for almost a century. It arrived in Italy in 1606, thanks to a Florentine merchant on business relations with Spain: thanks to him, the first chocolate shops were born.

In the 1800s, with the Napoleonic trading block, cocoa powder was replaced with hazelnut flour and only 20% cocoa: thus the gianduiotti were born, while the chocolate bar was invented in America in 1831 and milk chocolate in 1875 in Switzerland.



According to some 16th-century sources, the consumption of coffee as a drink was introduced in 1454 by an Arab sheik. From the 1500s, coffee arrived in the West through merchants, but at the time it was not very popular and was considered a very expensive product. The real spread in Europe and Italy took place at the end of the seventeenth century: some scholars intertwine this spread with the opening of cafes, that is, the meeting and tasting rooms of the precious blend.

In the eighteenth century. coffee became very famous throughout Europe, to the point of being celebrated in some literary-theatrical works: the comedy Il Caffè by Rousseau, Goldoni’s La Bottega del caffè, Bach’s Cantata del Caffè.

However, given the high costs, it remained a drink for a few for a long time: ordinary people often bought it cheaply from charlatans who sold substitutes enriched with a few real coffee beans.

Throughout the eighteenth century, perhaps even in the beautiful lounges of the villas of delight, favorable considerations alternated with catastrophic rumors regarding coffee and its effects on the body. Some claimed that it had anaphrodisiac properties and that it led to impotence. Linnaeus took the liberty of calling it “the capon liqueur”. Some doctors glorified him, others condemned him openly. It is said that in Sweden, again in the 18th century, some inmates sentenced to death, as the execution of the death penalty, were forced to drink three coffees a day. In fact, they survived for a long time, proving that coffee is not harmful.


Only in the eighteenth century. there was the great diffusion of corn, because before, despite being well known for a few centuries, it was labeled by infamous prejudices that made it food only for animals. In the 1700s, on the other hand, thanks to a significant increase in its production and the overcoming of popular rumors, it became a widely used food.

In the countryside and also in the beautiful villas of delight, often also used as large farms, it was widely consumed: if on the one hand, it was the main dish of peasant families or of the villa’s attendants, on the other, it is not excluded that even some handsome gentleman a bit elderly used it. In fact, Barbo in 1634 in his book The delights and the fruits of agriculture and the villa, writes: “many have observed that after introducing this fodder, men are more fertile, more vigorous and cheerful …”. Probably even the nobility in some cases preferred to be a little less nobless.

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