What will come into mind when you hear the words ‘Ancient Roman’? Invasion, Empire, Julius Caesar, and Gladiator show might be smong some flashing immediately. After all, ancient Roman is famous for its historical sovereignty. Yet, have you heard about ancient Roman Food?
Talking about Ancient Roman food, you get this idea of strange and alien dishes to the modern world. Antiquity often surprises us for their eccentricity, indeed. Ancient Roman as a part of it has the same quirk. Ever you wonder to taste of a delicacy made of a flamingo’s tongue? The patrician of ancient Roman knew exactly what it tasted like. Although so, the food in ancient Roman wasn’t all that weird and bizarre. Some were ordinary, frittata and omelet as examples. In fact, the Empire had a great variety of dishes. It was famous for its cooking experiments. Archeologist excavations and Apicius’ surviving recipe book revealed all that. Ancient Roman is very adventurous about food as they are about their conquest. Thus, to know more of about the food in ancient Roman time, read on! We’ll dive a little further into each of the food categories.
Both poor and wealth class had cereal diets. Wheat, barley, oats, rye, and millets were those in this category. They were all strong staples for Roman men, especially wheat and barley. The two are the main ingredients to make porridge and bread.
Barely is especially essential for the Roman athletes and gladiators. It was more their go than wheat or any other cereals. It is by the name of Hordearii embedded to them which meant “Eaters of barley” or “Barley men”. It is because barley has a rich source of carbohydrate to help them gain weight and stamina. For the gladiators, barley had a significant role to maintaining a spectacular physique. The goal is to please the crowds. In general, the old people can plant barley in most condition. It is very adaptable and resistant. It guaranteed the harvest. Thus, barley was one of the most categories of food eaten by the ancient Roman.
Something we can’t miss about the Roman diet, it is their olive oil. Olive oil was so popular and it’s a necessity they should have daily. You won’t find a Roman man without olive oil in his kitchen. The fame of this commodity grew. Roman emperors began to support plantations and production of the olive tree and olive oil. Olive is very crucial for the Romans. If you pay close attention, Romans certified it by making olive leaves and branches as the symbol for their dignity. It was to represent peace, fertility, and prosperity which they could figure by having olives in their life.
They used olive oil for various purposes. Most of the rural Romans used it to fry their food since olive oil enriched the taste. The Roman military diets were as well cooked in olive oil and vinegar. Some of popular sauces in ancient Roman cuisines had olive oil as an ingredient. It’s no doubt of how important olive oil was for the Romans, all the people used it in their diets! However, olive oil was not a part of the Romans food. It was a part of their lifestyle. They used olives beyond food wise. Olive oil was also used for bathing. Thus, olive and olive oil were so important to the ancient Roman.
While you have heard of wine said side by side with Roman. Posca is a new drink you hear. However, posca was a popular drink for the people in ancient Roman. Posca was a typical red wine vinegar concoction that many Roman soldiers always consume. It was made by mixing sous wine or vinegar with water plus the spice of herbs for flavor.
There was a belief among Roman soldiers that drinking posca can make them healthier and stronger. In fact, it helped to prevent scurvy. It also provide semi anti-bacterial protection. Sanitation in those time wasn’t yet so hygienic. Normal water was usually contaminated. Thus, it’s quite a custom for the soldiers to keep their health by drinking posca. People carried huge barrels of posca around by the Roman legions during their military campaigns.
Ancient Roman is known for their healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables make it to this list. They were essential for the Roman since it’s arguably not Roman style without the inclusion of grapes and olives. Around that time, there were already many varieties of fruits. Apples, figs, and grapes were the most available fruits, while pears, plums, dates, cherries, and peaches entailed the list. They served it fresh, or as raisins and unfermented juice that is known as defrutum. Fruits were also grown or harvested from wild trees and often preserved for out-of-season eating. They also enjoyed having cherries, oranges, dates, lemons, and oranges from exotic imports. For vegetables, they were legumes and beans, lentils, and peas. It often served with bread as it gave excellent source of protein. Other vegetables eaten by the Roman included asparagus, mushrooms, onions, turnip, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, leek, celery, cucumbers, artichokes, and garlic. In the ancient Roman, wild plants were an available option for vegetables. Olives and olive oil were, of course, as today, staple food and an important source of fats.
Now, it might surprise of just how many fruits and vegetables we can found in ancient Roman food. It might occur that a lot of food would bin since it wasn’t consumed, but Romans were acknowledged for their invention. They could preserve fruits and vegetables for significant amounts of time by pickling them in either brine or vinegar or preserved them in wine, grape juice, or honey.
Sauces and spices are central to ancient Roman food. A special sauce named garum, it was especially famous and they added it to almost everything. It is like how we’re currently caught with the delicious and salty cheese sauce. In that time, garum was the cheese sauce for the ancient Romans, they truly loved it. What is garum? In a super brief explanation, it’s a fish sauce. Garum was made from the entrails of anchovies, left in the sun to ferment. However, the fermented fish wasn’t immediately garum. It became three sauce types which were garum, liquamen, and allec. Back to centuries ago, one step to make this delicious and loved by all sauce was leaving it on the open for the sun to be salted. The gunk, as the result of this process, was later filtered. From the liquid, garum was the best quality paste. Liquamen was the next second class sauce which passed through the filter. Then the lowest quality, allec, was what is left at the bottom of the sieve which destined to fill the slaves’ stomach.
While garum was their favorite sauce, silphium is their favorite spice. This spice was a heavenly ticket of taste to the plain bread they could afford. Silphium, also known as Laser, was an herb that famous in ancient Roman. It was an herb cultivated on the island of Cyreanica, off the coast of Libya. Sadly, it’s already extinct for the modern world to taste. Roman loved silphium so much and they tried to plant it in a bigger scale for only a little luck. Thus, since it can only be cultivated on Cyreanica, they over-farmed it and it went extinct. A lesson here is loving something too much can cause harm to it, ouch. So, silphium is only a name with details now. The fascinating detail of this herb was the shape. The modern people might regard it as love spice, a sappy name to the Romans ear. But, the fruit and seed of silphium from all the literature known to men were heart-shaped. It may be the source of the idea to represent love in a heart shape. For a thought, isn’t it fitting to think that the ancient Roman just loved their silphium so much? When it’s gone they created some concept to preserve its existence to let their descendants knew? That’s quite an idea. In the subject of taste, may your curiosity poke, asafeotida that is still common in Middle Eastern cooking today had the similar taste to silphium of Romans. This spice called Hing or Devil’s Dung for its strong smell. It was also in the ancient Roman list of spice, but it was only given a glance since by people as second class flavor. To the popular modern spices, leeks or garlic is the best equal for silphium.
In the ancient Roman times, bread was quite a staple. The Romans baked bread as early as 300 BC. They soon found the perk of baking wheat and other flour. But, it’s better for you to assume that the bread around that time wasn’t the same as now. The bread was generally dark on the skin and coarse on the texture. The texture wasn’t as flattering as your daily bread. Surely, there’s an expectation for those in high tiers. The better-quality wheat resulted in being whiter color and finer bread. It came quite pricy though, so only the rich can have such a privilege. Most ancient Roman people were stuck with the general bread.
Over time, the quality is heightened by the innovations of finer sieves and grinding mills. As bread consumption increased so much popularity. Within 150 years of development, over three hundred special pastry chefs were serving the capital of Rome. As the business grew and more demands came for bread, more varieties were made. The bread became smoother in texture and fancier in flavor. The difference mostly came from the quality of the flour used. The fineness of grains and the mills used for grinding the flour, as well, turned to be very prominent as more innovation was made. The bread with various components such as milk, egg, legumes and butter to make it more nutritious. But mainly to improve the taste. For the poor, breads with such additional enhancements of milk and butter were not affordable.
The Roman loved to eat meat. For so, they took it to another level. Their wide variety of meat demands could make you gaping in a thin line of disgust and amazement. The ordinary wild game of rabbit hare and boar evolved to the exotic peacock and flamingo. All were the meat used for dishes. Wild game along with poultry made the most sources of meat, followed by veal, mutton, pork and goat. Big list of animals are on the game. They are deer, hare, boar, rabbit. There also is an astonishing group of birds. They are magpies, plovers, woodcocks, partridges, ducks, doves, pheasants, blackbirds, geese, and quails.
Aiming to impress his master’s great guests, an aristocrat’s chef liked to mix in the cooking pot exotic birds; such as: flamingos, peacocks. Dormice and snails were a well-known dish for ancient Roman food. And the list didn’t stop there. Have the names in our list shocked you yet? Hold on, in ancient Rome, ostrich and giraffe meat were also put in the chef’s loving arms. For the Romans, they were considered exotic and highly recommended for a fest. Ostrich and giraffe were sometimes taken on the arena games, prepared to fight a lion or its kind, to entertain their owner and guests. Yet, that barbaric culture was quite ridiculous and, lucky for the animals, slowly disappeared from the culture. Still, this habit of the lavish Romans to take pleasure from sadistic exhibitions was famous back then. Emperor Commodus as one showed a great liking to shoot ostriches’ head with his arrow. Still, the ancient Romans were eager to present ostriches and giraffes on their dinner menu. Though people at the time considered the shape and look of these animals ugly.
Although there were varieties of meat types, meat was an expensive commodity for most Romans. Meat was prepared in sausages, meatballs, and small clean cuts. It was usually the wealthier class who could have the fancy to enjoy the delightful taste of meat in a big amount. Especially meat from exotic animals, it was impossible for peasants to have the smallest bite. The wealthier Romans displayed meats as ways to show off their superior status. The more exotic meat could be served on the table, the higher one status became. Therefore, for a mere citizen porridge and vegetable was more of their diet.
Meat was an expensive commodity to let it waste. The Romans conserved it by salting, drying, smoking, curing, pickling, and preservation in honey.
The sea delicacy was a familiar choice for the Romans. Fish, crabs, mussels, clams, scallops were some to name. Fish was often found in ancient Roman food menu as revealed in Apicius’ book. Oysters were so popular that there were large businesses devoted to oyster farming. A type of clam called telline that is still popular in Italy today was also a popular part of a rich seafood mix. No wonder that the Roman was a bit fishy to how much they seemed to like food from the sea!
As they were with meat, the ancient Roman indeed and undoubtedly was adventurous in their culinary journey. You could find the casual fish ingredients to the not-so-usual fish for food, electric ray to name one. Shellfish and fishes were the best source of protein that for dieters. However, supply was irregular and undependable. Thus, the preservation of fish was needed to ensure a useful protein addition to the Roman diet. They farm fishes in artificial salt and fresh-water ponds. Therefore, it allowed them to cultivate fish in order to fulfill their supply. The ancient Roman ate the fish dried, salted, smoked, fresh, or pickled on daily occasions.
Who doesn’t know the close relationship between Romans and Wine? Wine was undoubtedly the favored drink among Romans. It’s graceful and elegant as the Empire was and it was the clear image to show despise against their enemy who fancied beers. Therefore, it’s natural for Romans to choose wine as their favorite. The drinking culture, however, doesn’t resemble modern culture. The Romans liked to have their wine diluted in water rather than drinking it straight. Since they consumed it often, in almost every occasion, the diluted wine was a good choice to reduce the alcohol. As a popular drink, wine came in verities. The popular ones are black, red, white and yellow wines. In the ancient Roman, the first dinner course in households was usually accompanied by a slight variation of regular wine with honey. The mixture is called mulsum. Some of the best vintage wines at the time were Setian, Massic, Falernian and Caecuban.
Come to the number one, wheat was notably one of the main food items. It was wheat was a focal ingredient for plenty of cuisines for Roman people. They use wheat flour to make bread, porridge, and pancake or biscuit. Roman typically had three meals in a day namely jentaculum for breakfast, prandium for lunch and cena for dinner. Food originated from mixture of wheat was commonly served in each session.
Wheat pancakes decorated with dates or poured by honey was common for breakfast. In the afternoon for pandium, it was common for them to have wheat bread and cheese. For dinner, the main course was most likely wheat porridge. Although wheat was prime in ancient Roman food, it’s only limited for those who could enjoy wheat bread daily. Bread from the best wheat was more expensive than common bran bread. Regular people had their preference set on the later while wheat bread became the first choice for the rich.
Now you know about the food in the ancient Roman time, it’s clear they have a rich range of cuisines which makes many of ours today. From light to heavy dish, and sweet to salty culinary, the ancient Roman had it long before us. Not only that, they appear to have a big appetite considering how many types of foods from each category to be consumed by them! Surprising how varied the food is, isn’t it? But it is really that surprising? After all, Roman was the ancestor of some of the most delicious food creators our world currently has. The ancient Roman certainly had a lot more than they seemed to appear in the history book. Instead of making your head throbbing, this side of Roman becomes the cause of the growling noise from your tummy. Don’t forget to eat and have a healthy diet like the Roman!
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