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3,200-Year-Old ‘Mummy Cheese’ Unearthed From Egyptian Tomb: Edible Or Not?

Aug 21, 2018 12:52 AM EDT
Cheese entombed from ancient Egypt can apparently last over three millennia. However, scientists caution against eating the "mummy cheese."
(Photo : Jill Wellington | Pixabay)

Archaeologists digging around broken jars in an ancient Egyptian tomb were in for a big surprise when they unearthed a chunk of ancient "mummy cheese."

A Smelly Ancient Discovery

At first, the scientists weren't certain of the nature of the stinky white substance they uncovered. While they suspected it was something ancient Egyptians consumed, it took a laboratory analysis to reveal what it actually was.

In a newly released research paper published in the journal Analytic Chemistry, it's confirmed that the substance is actually ancient cheese that's approximately 3,200 years old. It is one of the oldest solid specimens ever found.

According to New York Times, the Egyptian tomb where the cheese was found was for Ptahmes, who was a high-ranking official in 13th century B.C. The tomb was originally discovered in the 19th century, but it was buried under sand again and rediscovered in 2010.

Is It Edible? Delicious?

It's a fascinating find that could certainly unlock secrets from the past, but there's one question on everyone's mind: could the mummy cheese actually be eaten?

Right now, unfortunately not.

Paul Kindstedt, a cheese expert from the University of Vermont, tells SFGate that a study conducted in 1942 suggests that ancient cheese probably just tastes like dust.

"According to the authors, these solid and powdered cheese residues, which were about 2,000 years older than the one in the latest study, 'have no smell and only a dusty taste,'" he says.

An even better reason to stay away from the 3,200-year-old cheese: bacteria.

The analysis on the cheese revealed evidence of a specific bacteria that is known to cause brucellosis. Brucellosis is an infectious disease that leads to an array of symptoms — fever, sweating, headache, muscle pain, and others — that may never go away, according to CDC. It can be contracted from contact with infected animals or animal products.

Back then, though, the mummy cheese would have been similar to modern goat cheese back when it was served in ancient times, according to Kindstedt. It may have had an acidic bite with a spreadable texture.

For the study authors, the taste takes a back seat to their discovery.

"We know it was made mostly from sheep's and goat's milk, but for me it's really hard to imagine a specific flavor," Enrique Greco, study lead author, says in an email to SFGate. "I'm Italian. I love cheese and I know how much they can change in flavor and appearance even with very few differences in ingredients and process."

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