Garum: Fermented Fish Sauce With A Roman History

Garum is a fermented fish sauce with Roman origins that is incredibly flavorful and usually misunderstood. Even though its cooking process may have altered over the period of more than a dozen centuries, it has succeeded in maintaining its influence in the culinary world: Today's garum producers, unlike the Romans, don't often prepare it in stone tanks or with copious amounts of fish, salt, or seawater. True garum is still relevant today and is adored by chefs all over the world for its powerful, umami-rich flavours. You may create a completely new dish with just a few drops of it. 

Garum, which Pliny the Elder described as a "exquisite liquid," was one of the first to be described as "a choice liquor consisting of the guts of fish and the other portions that would otherwise be considered trash." Sandor Katz, a fermentation expert today, calls it "a historical Roman word for fermented fish sauce," adding that it is "very comparable to contemporary Southeast Asian fish sauces, only often utilising less salt, resulting in an even funkier flavour." Garum, whose ubiquity and widespread manufacture substantially decreased with the fall of the Roman empire, is thought to have been directly succeeded by colatura di Alici, a light amber liquid prepared from fermented, salted anchovies that is still produced on the Amalfi Coast. 

How it is made 

Garum was a common condiment in ancient Rome and has been compared to ketchup. It was initially produced with small fish, such as sardines and mackerel, brine, and lots of time. Aromatic herbs, spices, and even wine were included to the recipe as garum production spread around the globe. Before we discuss the traditional way of making garum and how it inspired more modern techniques, it is important to note that old fish sauces can be a little difficult to work with. Some historical background is necessary because garum has diverse meanings depending on the time period. The term "garum" is used to describe a variety of fermented sauces that modern chefs create in their restaurants using ingredients as diverse as oysters, vegetables, and even egg whites. However, there is a great deal of confusion and conflict among contemporary scholars (archaeologists, nutritionists, and ichthyologists) regarding its use. 

Confusion's origins can be traced all the way back to Roman antiquity. In addition to garum, a fish sauce having roots in Greek and Phoenician cuisine, the Romans also produced liquamen, a second form of fish sauce. Sally Grainger, a food historian, writes in The Story of Garum, a book that many experts regard as the bible on the subject, that liquemen "functioned both as a general salt seasoning in cooking and as an ingredient compound dressing that were served as dips and also poured over cooked meat, fish, and prepared dishes." Garum was used in cooking rather infrequently, according to Grainger, a specialist in ancient Roman cuisine whose work has involved studying and experimentally replicating the fish sauces of Roman cuisine. 


Throughout Roman times, the quality and cost of garum varied according to the fish used and the liquid's concentration; the thinner the liquid, the better and more expensive it was. The Roman army and more humble kitchens received weaker versions of the sauce. It was also blended with items like pepper, vinegar, and oil to make new compound condiments. It was used as a flavouring enhancer for pig, fish, and even wine. Additionally, it was regarded as a source of protein due to the fact that it was made from fish. A network of trade routes was eventually established from regions like the Iberian Peninsula, the Mediterranean Sea, and North Africa, where massive production facilities were built to satisfy the Romans' insatiable demand for litre after litre of the pungent relish. Over time, garum came to be seen as so essential to the ancient Roman diet.