Recovering the Formula for Garum, an Ancient Roman Fish Sauce

Taras Grescoe, Smithsonian Magazine:

While archaeologists have excavated concrete vats used for making garum from Tunisia to France, intact organic remains have proven harder to come by. A breakthrough occurred in 2009, when Italian researchers discovered six sealed dolia (large clay storage vessels) in a building that modern scholars have dubbed the Garum Shop at Pompeii. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 buried the building under several feet of ash, perfectly preserving a small factory just as it was salting down a late-summer catch of locally fished picarel to make liquamen.

Food technicians from the universities of Cádiz and Seville have analyzed the charred, powdered remains from Pompeii. Using that information, and guided by a liquamen recipe thought to have been written in the third century A.D. — it calls for heavily salted small fish to be fermented with dill, coriander, fennel and other dried herbs in a closed vessel for one week — the researchers produced what they claim is the first scientific recreation of the 2,000-year-old fish sauce.

Grescoe was able to make a Mason jar’s worth of garum, and a 2005 blog post gives a different recipe for recreating it. Fascinating stuff.