A Timeline of food in Britain
Since the Neolithic period, many types of food have become available to people living in the British Isles. The Romans brought a variety of exotic foods, and European exploration of other parts of the world led to imports of new foodstuffs such as potatoes, tomatoes, sugar and chocolate.
Use this timeline to find out when different foods became widely available in Britain.
Hunter-gatherers would have exploited the huge range of edible species that are native to the British Isles. This included hunting wild animals and birds, gathering leaves, roots and fruit from plants, and catching fish and shellfish.
Domestic animals and plants were first brought to the British Isles from the Continent in about 4000 BC, heralding the start of the Neolithic period. As well as keeping domesticated animals such as cattle, pigs and sheep, people were cultivating crops such as wheat and barley.
2200–800 BCBronze Age
In the Bronze Age, a wider variety of crops and vegetables were grown in some of the earliest permanent fields. These included beans, peas and spelt wheat.
800 BC–AD 43Iron Age
It’s generally assumed that the Romans brought wine and vines to Britain, although amphorae found at some late Iron Age sites (such as Carn Euny in Cornwall) suggest that wine was being imported earlier. The earliest known chicken bones date to the early Iron Age.
AD 43–400Roman Period
The Romans brought a variety of exotic foods to Britain, including game (rabbits, pheasants, brown hare), vegetables (cabbage, leeks, onions, turnips), fruit (grapes) and nuts (walnuts). They also introduced herbs and flavourings such as garlic, pepper, basil and thyme.
Sugar was discovered by western Europeans during the Crusades, with the first recorded sugar in Britain noted in 1099. It remained an expensive luxury until the 18th century.
The first written record of turkeys being raised in Britain dates to 1541, and the earliest potatoes were brought to Europe in about 1570 by Spanish explorers. Widespread eating of rice only started in the 15th century, usually in the form of a pudding.
Surprisingly, the sweet orange was unknown in Europe until the end of the 15th century, when orange trees were first brought to the Mediterranean area. Coffee and tea were widely available to buy as an expensive delicacy by the mid-17th century.
Over the last 300 years, a huge range of food has become available in Britain. Today, we think nothing of eating broccoli (1700), tomatoes (1750), chocolate bars (1847), and baked beans (1886) – foods that only relatively recently became part of the British diet.
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