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The Story of Garum: Roman Fish Sauce in a Modern Context: Question & Answer

Sally Grainger answers questions about The Story of Garum: Roman Fish Sauce in a Modern Context

Published onJan 21, 2021
The Story of Garum: Roman Fish Sauce in a Modern Context: Question & Answer

Editors note: This publication contains a lightly edited transcript of the question and answer portion of the corresponding lecture.

Anonymous. Public Domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Q & A

Question: After the Red Boat sauce is prepared, how is the salt content reduced down to the 15%? Is this done by diluting the mixture with water?

Sally: No, I believe because it is a fish sauce made in Vietnam but for the American market, it has to be pasteurized before the FDA will allow import. The pasteurizing process is what allows them to take the salt off. And of course, once you take away that salt, it allows more protein to be absorbed into the liquor, so it becomes even more concentrated.

Question: What salt is commonly used? Is is sea salt?

Sally: Absolutely, a sea salt. Next to most of the fish sauce factories in Spain and North Africa you have the salt beds for harvesting sea salt. Yes.

Question: If ancient fish sauce was a delicacy, was it something only the elites were consuming?

Sally: No. The garum, the black and bloody garum, is elite. But liquamen is widespread. Everybody wants it. There are cheaper versions. There are diluted versions. But actually it is consumed by soldiers. It's consumed by ordinary people. So the meat stew, or the bacon stew with vegetables [INAUDIBLE] that is the standard fare for everybody as their hot meal of the day, is flavored with it too.

Question: Is this fish sauce something the Romans would have brought with them as they expanded the Empire?

Sally: There is fish sauce on Hadrian's Wall. There is fish sauce in Israel. There is fish sauce all over Spain, all over Germany, all over Gaul, yes all over the Mediterranean. Everywhere that the Romans go, fish sauce followed. Amphorae (i.e. the vessels that they transport it in) go everywhere the Romans go. And oil, wine, and fish sauce go with them.

We understand why. And we understand olive oil. The olive oil was used for light, used for cleaning, and used for cooking. The fish sauce was always something we never understood, but it seemed to go in this, almost in more volume than the oil and the wine sometimes, and that was hard to understand.

What was the appeal of this so-called rotten, disgusting stuff that the Romans seemed to want to consume? And it couldn't be understood because of umami. So that boring vegetable stew with lentils and a tiny little [AUDIO OUT] can be transformed into something magical, as we know.

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