Worcestershire Sauce and Ancient Roman Garum

I love to cook and this week I was making a great venison recipe which called for Worcestershire Sauce. After about 15 minutes of debating the proper pronunciation (Lea & Perrins website lists multiple pronunciations), I went in search of the sauce and found that I had none.  Stupidly I thought maybe I could find a way to substitute the sauce and realized that I actually had no idea what Worcestershire sauce was made of or honestly tasted like on its own. Upon further research (ie Wikipedia) I learned that it is a fermented sauce. My first thought was of Ancient Rome and garum, which was apparently wiki’s thought too as I scrolled down and found out they started the history of Worcestershire Sauce with the Ancient Greeks. Wiki got something right!

Fermented sauces go back far into history. The most important of them was probably garum. Garum is a fermented fish sauce, some say it is probably similar to Indian fish sauces. It was used by both the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans and was an important part of trade in the Ancient Mediterranean. Amphorae have been tested through some awesome processes and found to contain garum dating back as far as the 5th century BCE. The production and export of garum gave towns around the Roman Empire a certain level of prestige, especially those that produced the best garum; one of these towns was Pompeii.

The reason garum was a such a popular condiment for Roman nobility, besides its tradition of prestige and its Greek roots, was that it retained a high protein content. However there is something intriguing about the literature surrounding garum. Many authors write about how terrible and disgusting garum is.  Pliny the Elder called it, “that secretion of putrefying matter.” Plato called it, “putrid garum.” And Martial praised a man for still loving a woman who had eaten many helpings of garum. Although it was criticized so much in literature it was in fact used heavily and transported all around the Mediterranean. While most of the popular mentions of Worcestershire sauce are to the pronunciation of its name, it is still interesting that this sauce shows up in pop culture like garum did. Take this clip as a great example of the humor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQHhdy_gpcw  They are definitely from the same family, although I’ve had garum and I will stick with the evolved Worcester version.

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One thought on “Worcestershire Sauce and Ancient Roman Garum

  1. Pete Laberge says:

    Good video clip! I loved that show! Yes, I think I will stick with the modern version, too, even though it may not be as historically accurate! It is cheaper and more easily available! Even if none of us can pronounce the name!

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