Fish Sauce: Exploring The Garum, An Ancient Roman Condiment

Garum is a fermented fish sauce that held great significance in ancient Roman cuisine. It was a staple condiment widely used by the Romans to enhance the flavors of their dishes. Garum was made by fermenting fish, typically mackerel or anchovies, with salt and various herbs and spices. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Greece, but it gained immense popularity in ancient Rome, becoming an integral part of their culinary culture. The Romans used Garum as a seasoning, a flavour enhancer, and even as a standalone condiment. Its rich umami taste and ability to preserve food made it a sought-after ingredient in Roman kitchens.

Garum held significant cultural and culinary importance in ancient Rome. It was considered a luxury item and a symbol of refinement. Garum production was a thriving industry, with specialised factories dedicated to its preparation. Fish, usually mackerel or anchovies, were mixed with salt and left to ferment for weeks or months. The resulting liquid, rich in flavours and nutrients, was highly valued.

Garum played a vital role in everyday Roman meals. It was used as a condiment to enhance the taste of various dishes, including meats, vegetables, and sauces. The Romans considered it an essential ingredient in their culinary repertoire, adding depth, umami, and a savoury tang to their food. Its use extended to the wealthiest households and even the humblest street food stalls. Garum was versatile and adaptable, finding its way into stews, marinades, dressings, and even desserts. Its popularity endured for centuries, showcasing its integral role in ancient Roman gastronomy.

Culinary Uses

Garum was a versatile ingredient used in a variety of ways in ancient Roman recipes. Its primary role was to enhance flavours, add umami richness, and preserve foods. It was employed as a seasoning and condiment in numerous dishes, including meat and fish preparations, vegetables, and sauces. Garum's ability to intensify flavours made it a popular choice among Roman cooks.

In addition to its seasoning qualities, Garum also served as a natural preservative. It helped extend the shelf life of perishable ingredients, particularly fish and meat. This was especially crucial at a time when refrigeration did not exist.

Specific dishes that prominently featured Garum include the famous "Garum Mulsum," a sauce made by combining Garum with honey and wine. Another example is "Isicia Omentata," a dish consisting of minced meat flavoured with Garum, pepper, wine, and various herbs. "Patina," a type of savoury custard, often incorporates Garum for added depth of flavour. Moreover, Garum was commonly used in Roman soups, stews, and various vegetable-based dishes, contributing its distinctive taste to the overall culinary experience.

In conclusion, Garum held immense historical and culinary significance in ancient Roman cuisine. It served as a prized condiment, flavour enhancer, and preservative, adding depth and umami to a wide range of dishes. The ongoing fascination with ancient Roman cuisine has sparked a revival of interest in Garum and other traditional Roman dishes. As scholars, chefs, and enthusiasts delve deeper into the culinary heritage of ancient Rome, there is potential for further research and exploration of ancient Roman recipes, including the production and uses of Garum, offering insights into the gastronomic practises of the past.

Recipe For Garum

Creating an authentic Garum recipe can be quite challenging due to the lack of precise historical documentation. However, based on historical references and modern interpretations, here's a detailed 


2 pounds of small, oily fish (such as anchovies, sardines, or mackerel)

2 pounds of sea salt (preferably non-iodized)

Herbs and spices (optional, such as bay leaves, coriander seeds, or fennel seeds)


1. Clean the fish:

Gut and clean the fish thoroughly, removing the heads, tails, and internal organs.

Rinse the fish in cold water to remove any remaining impurities.

2. Layering and salting:

Prepare a large, non-reactive container like a ceramic or glass jar.

Spread a layer of sea salt at the bottom of the container.

Arrange a layer of fish on top of the salt, making sure they are tightly packed.

Sprinkle a generous layer of sea salt over the fish, covering them completely.

Repeat the layering process until all the fish are used, ensuring each layer is well salted.

3. Optional herbs and spices:

If desired, you can add a few bay leaves, coriander seeds, or fennel seeds between the layers of fish for additional flavour.

4. Pressing and fermentation:

Place a weight on top of the fish to compress them and ensure they remain submerged in their own juices.

Cover the container with a breathable cloth or plastic wrap with small holes to allow air circulation.

Store the container in a cool, dark place with a stable temperature between 15 and 25°C (59 and 77°F).

Allow the fish to ferment for at least several weeks to several months, depending on personal preference. The longer the fermentation, the stronger the flavour.

5. Straining and bottling:

After the desired fermentation period, strain the liquid from the container, using a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove any solids.

Transfer the liquid, which is the Garum, into clean, airtight bottles or jars for storage.

Note: This recipe is a general guideline, and the proportions and fermentation time can be adjusted based on personal preference and experimentation. It is advisable to research further and consult experts or historical sources for a more authentic approach.

Please note that fermenting fish can produce strong odours, so proper ventilation and consideration for personal sensitivities should be taken into account when preparing Garum.