Butter, Man’s Ancient Food

Butter, Man’s Ancient Food

Butter and other concentrated fats, like ghee, olive oil and eulachon/oolichan grease have been used and honored by mankind from the dawn of history.


3,000 year old butter found buried in a bog in Ireland. from http://media.irishcentral.com/images/300*243/280411_bogbutterSWF.jpg

‘Bog butter’ from 3,000 BC found in ancient underground store

Butter and Human History

I found a very nice website called Butter Through the Ages, it is a wealth of information on the history of butter and I used some of what you’ll find there to write this article.

The historical, cultural and anthropological evidence that we have in abundance, disproves the theory that man is by nature a strictly vegetarian being.

People, all people throughout history, have eaten whatever they had, animal or vegetable, to live and thrive, and all people’s have found a way to concentrate healthy fats like butter.

All the ancient sacred texts, from many different cultures, give us a window to what people ate long ago, they all tell us that people have always treasured fat.

The Writings of the Hebrews

For example, the Bible has several references to butter.

The Hebrew word “chemah”, translated “butter or curd” is featured in the story of Abram feeding the three heavenly visitors butter “chemah”, milk and a boiled calf in Genesis chapter 18 verse 8.

Years ago I learned to read Hebrew, (I told you I was a study geek) and was happy when someone showed me a picture of modern day Israeli butter still using the same ancient word used in the Bible for butter on the label of modern butter today.


circled in yellow – the same Hebrew word written in the original Hebrew book of Genesis is still used today in Modern Israeli Hebrew for “Butter”


The Hebrew letter’s from right to left (backwards to English) are “Chet, Mem, Alef, Hey”  =  Chemah

There are also many references in the Bible of honoring a guest by serving them a meal made from a “Fatted Calf” (Luke 15:23) a calf fed in a way to especially fatten them up or living off the “fat of the land” (Genesis chapter 45 verse 18) or living in the land of “milk and honey” which believe me was not referring to skim milk.

The Ancient People of Sumer

The ancient Sumerians, the place of one of the first civilizations, (the Fertile Crescent, later called Babylon, modern day Iraq) have left us a beautiful stone depiction of laborers milking cows and churning, from well over 4,000 years ago.



The Greeks

Our modern English word for butter comes from the Greeks “butyron” which, like the Hebrew, probably meant some form of churned milk product like curds, cheese or butter.

The Greeks looked down on people who ate butter.

It’s a good thing they did, because while putting people who eat butter down, they also preserved the fact that these people were eating butter thousands of years ago.

The Greeks themselves loved another concentrated fat, called olive oil and the myth they told was the olive tree was the gift of the goddess Athena. But modern archeology has discovered that people in the Middle East had been making olive oil for several thousand years before the Greeks came along.

The Northern Europeans

The Greeks preferred olive oil and still do, but the peoples of Northern Europe treasured butter.


keg of thousand-year-old butter from the Cork Butter Museum, Cork, Ireland

Archeologists have found many barrels of butter hidden in the bogs of Northern Europe. The Irish, the Norseman, the people of Iceland, the Finns and the Scots all practiced this art of storing butter under ground in “firkins” or wooden barrels.

Buried Barrels of Butter – great article about buried buttery gold of Ireland and other Northern European peoples.


3,000 year old oak barrel weighs 77 pounds and still has butter in it (the butter has turned into a wax like substance, but the smell was attacking crows during the excavation.

3,000 Year Old Butter

The Arabs

The Arabs also treasure butter or traditional products made from butter.

In Morocco, they eat something called “smen” a butter-based cooking oil, pictured below.  And in Lebanon, they have “samneh”.


Smen – picture from NPR article

Smen Is Morocco’s Funky Fermented Butter That Lasts For Years – this is an article from NPR about the Moroccan Smen

Butter and Smen in the Arab World – this is an article that goes into the history of using butter and butter products in the Middle East.

Tibet – Yak Butter

Traditional Tibetans lived off a simple diet based around the Yak and it’s butter. They have a staple meal called “tsampa” made of a mixture of tea, Yak butter and barley.

Yaks, Butter and Lamps – an article about the how the Tibetans use butter to eat, make beautiful butter sculptures and use in religious ceremonies.

Tibetan Butter Sculpture

Tibetan Butter Sculpture from – http://www.justfoodnow.com/2010/09/15/butter-in-tibet-tsampa/

Here’s a nice article showing Tibetan Monks making Tsampa – Butter in Tibet – Tsampa

“Their staple dish is tsampa which is made of salted tea that’s mixed with loads of yak butter and toasted barley flour; this flour is mixed in by hand and rolled into little balls when they eat it.”

Native Americans/ First Nations

Native Americans didn’t have butter, that I know of, but did have highly nutritious oils like eulachon or oolichan oil that the Native American/First Nations tribes of the Pacific Northwest rendered from the candlefish, a species of Smelt.


Eulachon grease – from an article with lots of pictures of this traditional practice. http://www.lotuslandtours.com/eulachon-the-little-fish-that-made-history/

Eulachon – the little fish that made history

Grease Trails – Here’s a great article on the trade routes of these people who traveled far and wide trading this highly nutritious and valuable grease or oil
Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest – Here’s a nice article on Oolichan Grease and the Grease Trails, it has a description a person who witnessed a huge caravan of people transporting this life giving grease in 1874.


Hindu-Indian culture is one of the traditional societies that have lived a mostly vegetarian lifestyle for thousands of years.

krishna butter

Hindu god, Krishna, eating butter.

I say MOSTLY vegetarian, because throughout the thousands of years that culture has existed, they have used butter and clarified butter called ghee in their diet.

Many people don’t know that India, yes India, is this very day and time, the worlds largest butter producing country.

Butter and Ghee In India

Butter/Ghee was praised for it’s health giving properties in the sacred scriptures of India as early as 1500 B.C, (that’s 3,500 years ago, folks). I don’t pretend to understand Hindu culture, but because of ritual traditions, some foods that come from “lower” castes are not to be eaten by those in a higher caste, unless that food has been cooked in ghee, because ghee is seen as so special it can purify food.

Ghee (clarified butter) is eaten at Hindu weddings, in fact, there is often a competition to see which of the young men can eat the most at these happy events.

Mental Clarity, Digestion and Healthy Skin

Ghee is also a highly prized substance in traditional Hindu medicine, called Ayurveda.

Ghee is believed and taught in that ancient healing art (Ayurveda) to improve mental clarity and digestion, and promote healthy skin.

I think all of us who have increased the amount of butter in our diet can agree with those statements by noticing our own improvements in these areas.

Most diets cause you to use “will power” to eat less, but this doesn’t work for long for most people. The LCHF (low carb/high fat) diet turns off the “out of control hunger urges” that you’ve struggled with all your life and gives you control, gives you freedom without using “will power”. This will enable to do what is called “intermittent fasting”.

Intermittent Fasting or Short-term fasting.

You need to learn about this wonderful and easy process of not eating and all the many things it can do to help you lose weight and reverse many of the health issues a high insulin level causes. The most complete source of information on intermittent fasting can be gained all in one convenient book, which I highly recommend. I’ve written a critical review of some of the parts, but I still think “Eat Stop Eat” is the best fasting book you can find at this time. See my REVIEW at this link – http://www.buttermakesyourpantsfalloff.com/fasting-is-the-cure/

Legal Disclaimer
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. Individual Results may vary.

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  • Douglas Chew says:

    I wonder if that bog butter was still edible.

  • Carmen says:

    I would like to get the book EAT STOP EAT. I want a hard copy. is there no way to get it by snail mail?

  • Carmen says:

    In 1981 I had a most unique experience with butter. Out of nervousness to an event, I ate one stick of butter throughout one day. Immediately I began dropping one pound a day. this continued for two months. I spell out the numerals so there is no assumption of a typographical error. I have, since then, tried to duplicate that shedding of sixty pounds. Until now, I didn’t know the cause of the weight loss. I hesitate to call it ‘loss’ for when one ‘loses’ something, what’s the first thing we do? Yes–we go searching for it to bring it back. Now I know what to do. This is amazing.

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