In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Food in Islamic Studies

  • Introduction
  • General
  • Depictions of Food
  • Texts in Translation
  • Cookbooks and Cooks
  • Historical
  • Particular Foods
  • Drinks
  • Food and Medicine
  • Food and Law
  • Halal and Marketing
  • Cuisines and Food Culture

Islamic Studies Food in Islamic Studies
Brannon Wheeler
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0241


Study of food in Islamic societies was pioneered by the work of the prolific Syrian orientalist Habib Zayyat (b. 1871–d. 1954) published in Arabic, especially his “Fann al-ṭabkh wa islāḥ al-aʾṭima fī al-islām” (Art of cooking and preparing food in Islam) in al-Mashriq 41 (1947): 1–26. The French sociologist of Islam Maxime Rodinson (b. 1915–d. 2004) produced a number of works during World War II when he was resident at the French Institute in Damascus, including his more extensive “Recherches sur les documents arabes relatifs a la cuisine,” published in Revue des Etudes Islamiques (1949): 95–163 (see Rodinson 2001, under Cookbooks and Cooks). After the war, studies situating food into the larger cultural and economic context of medieval Muslim societies included Eliyahu Ashtor’s “Essai sur l’alimentation des diverses classes socials dans l’Orient medieval,” in Annales Histoire Sciences Sociales (1968): 1017–1053 (see Ashtor 1975, under Historical), and studies using a philological approach to focus on the cultural significance of food in a particular region and time period (see Miranda 1965, under Cookbooks and Cooks). Later works followed, including Muhammad Ahsan’s Social Life under the Abbasids (London, 1979) and Tadeusz Lewicki’s West African Food in the Middle Ages according to Arabic Sources (Lewicki 1974, under Cuisines and Food Culture). Synthetic studies such as those by Peter Heine, Geert Jan van Gelder and Lewicka’s more recent Food and Foodways of Medieval Cairenes (Lewicka 2011, under Historical) represent a fuller maturation of scholarship using “food studies” as a useful analytical perspective on the history of Islamic thought and societies. Such studies not only illuminate particular Muslim ideas and practices, but are also effective in allowing nonspecialists to use Islamic materials in the comparative and more general study of food history and culture.


The field of food studies is relatively young, and attention to food and food culture in Islam has not been frequent. Most of the general works are introductory and provide broad overviews with little depth in any given area. Zaouali 2007 is mostly a listing of recipes, but the author does use the dishes to illustrate what she defines as the medieval Islamic world. Heine 2004 is less specialized but more expansive and readable, covering a wider array of issues. Chabbouh 2004 provides a good starting place to identify many of the major sources and genres related to food in medieval Islamic scholarship. Waines 2011 is an interesting collection of articles from the Encyclopaedia of Islam on food including, its acquisition and ingredients, the place of food in Islamic thought, and the role of specific types of food, mainly in premodern Islamic societies. The edited volume Zubaida and Tapper 2000, although now slightly dated, is an excellent introduction to the field of food studies in Islam, bringing together a diversity of contributions by recognized scholars on a number of different issues.

  • Chabbouh, Ibrahim. The Cuisine of the Muslims. London: Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2004.

    Brief introduction to some of the most prominent medieval Arabic texts dealing with food and its significance in Islam. Includes short sections on food in medical and scientific treatises, cookbooks, works on growing food, and literary accounts of the manners and practice of eating.

  • Heine, Peter. Kulinarische Studien: Untersuchungen zur Kochkunst im arabisch-islamischen Mittelater: mit Rezepten. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1988.

    German work focused more narrowly on Arab and Islamic foods from the medieval or classical period. Includes examination of sources (adab, geographies, histories, cookbooks, and hisbah manuals), the cook and the kitchen, ingredients, main dishes, and the significance of food to medieval Arab Muslims. Also includes a selection of recipe descriptions, a list of Arabic terminology, and a bibliography.

  • Heine, Peter. Food Culture in the Near East, Middle East, and North Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.

    This general work includes a timeline of Islamic history and colorfully practical descriptions of “street foods” in the context of eating out in the contemporary practices of the region. Other sections provide overviews of and unique insights into cooking and the kitchen, typical meals, food on special occasions, and diet and health. The book is introduced by a concise outline of geography, political history, and culture as they apply to food and eating habits.

  • Waines, David, ed. Food Culture and Health in Pre-Modern Islamic Societies. EI Reference Guides 3. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2011.

    Collection of articles relating to food from the second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam. Selections include food sources (agriculture, livestock, food laws, hunting, specific animals), food resources (food and drinks, cooking and kitchen, spices and ingredients, food and culture), and medicine (specific physicians, medicines, marketplace). Introduced with a brief history of food studies in Islamic societies, an overview of sources for this study, and a synopsis of the articles in the volume.

  • Zaouali, Lilia. Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World: A Concise History with 174 Recipes. Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. Foreword by Charles Perry. California Studies in Food and Culture 18. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

    Section one provides a concise but insightful and helpful examination of food in the Islamic world from Spain to Central Asia. Topics include sources for the history of Islamic culinary history, the “cult of cuisine and gastronomy,” food and identity, phobias and obsessions, a historical overview of the development of Islamic food, and a study of materials, techniques, and terminology. Section two gives a number of medieval recipes, and section three provides modern North African recipes.

  • Zubaida, Sami, and Richard Tapper, eds. A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East. London: Tauris Parke, 2000.

    Contains a number of contributions by specialists in the food culture of the Middle East and Islam. The first two chapters provide an overview of food production in the Middle East and the national and international implications of food cultures in the region. Remaining chapters are divided into three broad areas: cuisines, dishes, and ingredients; food and social order; and language of food. Those chapters most relevant to Islam and food are listed separately below: Yamani 2000 (under Cuisines and Food Culture), Tapper 2000 (under Drinks), and Aubaile-Sallenave 2000 (under Particular Foods).

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