Period: Iron Age (500 BC - 800 AD)
Project title: The archaeology of Taste: Geoponica’s garum recipe no. 4
Researcher: Lara Comis, Italy
In the Antique world food was a form of art. The ancient Greeks and Romans were especially fond of the fish sauce Garum, as the basic ingredient of numerous sophisticated dishes. Garum was used in such quantities, that its production became semi-industrial in the Mediterranean. But how was this famous sauce, which no longer exits in the European Kitchen, made and what did it taste like? These questions will be explored by Lara Comis in this experiment. Several recipes for Garum have survived since the Antique. One of them is Geoponica’s recipe number four, which will be recreated in the Land of Legends. Absolutely fresh fish are soaked in brine with spices and cooked over an open fire. Even in the Antique opinions differed on the taste of Garum, but many things suggest that the sauce made up the renown fifth taste – umami – in the antique Kitchen.
The Researcher's Conclusions:
This experiment intended to analyse the use of brine in the production of boiled garum following the Geoponicas recipe number 4.
The experimental production of the garum recipe was carried out five times between the end of July and the beginning of August 2009 - one of these at the Land of Legends. The ratio between brine to fish was tested and carefully recorded to provide comparative data for further experiments. Samples of sauce obtained in each experiment were analysed to assess the organoleptic characteristics of taste - meaning assessment of taste. The results provide interesting observations which link the most harmonically built taste of garum to an almost 1:1 ratio between brine and fish. At the Land of Legends visitors who tasted the garum, confirmed this observation.
Experimental aspects and previously undervalued variables were very important. Being able to use earthenware pots, as the recipe explicitly recommended, has shed light on the transformation and breaking of fired clay when brine is boiled in such pots. The fracture pattern and the surface transformation might be investigated closer and could provide reference for archaeological material.
The action of tossing, which the recipe describes very briefly, was the most time consuming activity. Probably this act could be designed and arranged in a more productive way, possibly by pressing the compound as seen in the production of some present day fish products in Southern Italy.
Reference number HAFF 04/09