For most land-dwellers, the sea looks like a neverending supply of fresh seafood. So it’s only natural to think that pirates, who spent months at sea, would take advantage of it. However, this is far from the truth.
Pirates didn’t fish. Fish aren’t abundant on most of the sea surface and spoil quickly. The pirate diet was restricted to foods that were kept for a long time, such as dried meat and hardtack.
Pirate food was neither tasty nor nutritious, but it was nonetheless extremely interesting. This article will delve into the surprising reasons behind pirates’ choice of food and drinks.
Did Pirates Fish From Their Ships?
Pirates didn’t fish from their ships. Fish are very unevenly distributed in the open sea, and most areas aren’t good for fishing. Even when fishing was possible, it was an inefficient way of feeding the crew. Fish went bad quickly, so they couldn’t be stored.
Food is not abundant in the middle of the sea. In fact, it would be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to feed an entire crew solely by fishing from a ship at any given spot.
The reason is that, although the ocean is huge and teeming with life, fish populations aren’t evenly distributed. They are usually localized in groups that only inhabit specific regions, and not all of them swim close to the surface. 
If a pirate ship wanted to get any substantial amount of fish, they would have to go to a fish hotspot—usually close to the shore. Needless to say, this wasn’t always a possibility, especially if the ship was in the deep sea.
Even when fishing was possible, it wasn’t the most efficient way of obtaining food for a crew of at least twenty sailors. Pirates from the Golden Age of Piracy didn’t have any of the sophisticated fishing methods of today.
Deep sea fishing with large nets existed at the time, but it wasn’t something that a pirate ship could give its time to.  Pirates had to be alert for storms, enemy ships, and potential victims.
Lastly, even if a pirate ship happened to pass through an area with plentiful fish, it wouldn’t be a good idea to stock up on them.
The usual diet of a pirate was limited to foods that would keep throughout long voyages at sea, and fish wasn’t one of them. Fish went bad relatively quickly, and pirates only had rudimentary forms of preservation.
Of course, all of this doesn’t mean that pirates never ate fish. It’s safe to assume that they would get lucky now and then and enjoy fresh fish in their meals. They would also occasionally eat large sea turtles. 
Dried fish likely formed a part of the diet of many pirates. During the 17th and 18th centuries, drying and salting was the only known method of preserving fish for long periods. Pirates wouldn’t do this themselves—instead, when they would get salted fish, along with other provisions, while they were stocking up on land.
What Food Did Pirates Eat?
Pirates mostly ate dried meat, hardtack, beans, and grains. Their diet was restricted to foods that were kept for a long time. Fruits and vegetables were consumed during the first weeks before they spoiled. Many pirate ships carried livestock, which was a source of dairy, eggs, and fresh meat.
The pirate diet was restricted to things that could last for a long time in humid and unhygienic conditions.
Vegetables and fruits were the first things to go. Pirates would often load their ships with fruits and vegetables before embarking, but they were consumed during the first couple of weeks at sea. After that, they would go bad, and pirates had no way to preserve them.
Pirates needed to supply their ships with hardy foods that wouldn’t spoil easily. This included dried meat, bread, grains, and beans. 
Beef was likely the most common type of meat in a pirate ship, and bread usually took the form of hardtack. Hardtack, a type of hard, dry bread, could go for many months without spoiling.
Pirates would occasionally have the luxury of including dairy products in their meals. These didn’t last long, but some ships had a renewable source for them.
It was common for pirate ships to carry livestock—usually cattle, chickens, sheep, and pigs. Eggs were a reliable and nutritious food source, and cows and sheep could supply pirates with milk. These animals were also a source of fresh meat that wouldn’t spoil and could be fed the same dried food that pirates kept on a ship.
The pirate diet was far from being tasty. It was dull and strictly functional—at least after the first couple of weeks at sea. It was also not very nutritious. Dried meat and beans are high in protein, and hardtack gave them all the calories they needed, but pirates suffered from a severe lack of vitamins due to the absence of fruits and vegetables.
This lack of vitamins led to many illnesses, with scurvy being the most dangerous. Scurvy was very prevalent among sailors and killed around 2 million of them.
Scurvy is caused by a severe Vitamin C deficiency, but this wasn’t known at the time. Eventually, sailors noticed that citrus fruits, which are rich in Vitamin C, were effective at preventing this disease, and oranges and lemons took a special place on any ship. Pirates would likely stock up with citrus fruits at any chance they had.
What Did Pirates Drink?
Pirates mostly drank beer and watered-down rum. Water became stagnant and moldy during long journeys at sea, so liquor was often added to make it taste better. If the water was undrinkable, pirates would drink beer. Beer lasted much longer than water without spoiling.
Pirates were well known for being drunkards, and it turns out there’s good reason to believe that many of them were. Partly due to the fact that stored water became moldy at sea and partly to make up for their poor-tasting diet, pirates were constantly drinking some kind of alcoholic beverage.