The Unlikely Link Between Deviled Eggs And The Roman Empire

If you’ve been hanging around social media in the last year, you’ve probably come across the phrase ‘this is my Roman Empire’. The phrase itself began as a joke where women challenged their male partners about how often they thought about the Roman Empire, (which inevitably ended up being quite often) and it ended up being a phrase used to describe anything that you think about quite often. 

But when it comes down to it, there are all too many reasons to think about the Roman Empire and it seems like if you dig deep enough, the roads of all topics seem to lead to Rome even some of the most unexpected ones…like Devilled Eggs for example.

Video Credits: Preppy Kitchen/YouTube

There’s virtually no cuisine in the world that doesn’t include eggs and over the years countless ways to prepare them have evolved and there are hundreds of dishes built around them. But though the dish itself is humble, it has a rich history that dates back to Ancient Rome.

The dish features boiled eggs, cut in half with their yolks scooped out, mixed into a creamy, spiced mixture with mayonnaise and paprika and piped back into the egg white halves. They’re a popular party snack and a staple of most events, especially in the USA but were derived from a dish in 4th century Rome.

The Roman Connect

According to Apicius, also known as De re culinaria or De re coquinaria is a collection of Roman cookery recipes from the fourth to fifth century A.D., boiled eggs were conventionally seasoned with oil, wine, or broth, served with pepper, and paired with laser (also known as silphium, a plant extinct by the first century A.D.).

In Petronius's satirical work, "Satyricon," penned around 61 A.D., the affluent freedman Trimalchio hosted a banquet featuring an intriguing menu of fig-peckers, small songbirds marinated in peppered egg yolk and stuffed into peahen eggs

Eggs held such significance that the renowned Roman writer, Horace, coined the Latin phrase "ab ovo usque ad mala," meaning "from eggs to apples." This expression, as per Merriam-Webster, denotes the upper-class Roman dining practice of starting with eggs and concluding with apples for dessert.

How The Dish Reached Europe

In the 13th century, stuffed eggs emerged in the southern Andalusian regions of Spain. A cookbook from that era suggested grinding boiled egg yolks with cilantro, onion juice, pepper, and coriander, mixed with fermented fish sauce for a slightly more pungent iteration. Two centuries later, similar recipes gained popularity across Medieval Europe.

Why ‘Devilled’ Eggs?

The term "deviled," first used in late 18th century Britain to describe spicy foods, presumably linked the "heat" of the seasoning to the fires of hell, characterising the eggs' piquant flavour. "Deviling" became a verb for the process of making food spicy. In various places, terms like "mimosa eggs," "stuffed eggs," "dressed eggs," or "salad eggs" were used to describe the dish, avoiding any association with Satan.

The Rise Of Devilled Eggs In Modern Day

The deviled egg that we know and love today, utilising mayonnaise to bind the egg yolk filling, made its debut in the Boston Cooking School Cookbook of 1896. However, this version of Devilled Eggs didn't gain widespread popularity until the 1940s, several decades after the commercial availability of mayonnaise

By the 1940s, special platters designed with oblong indentations to hold Devilled Eggs became a standard gift for Southern brides and it had started on its journey to fame. But the real surge in deviled egg popularity in the United States occurred during the 1950s and has been attributed to advancements in food preservation technology—specifically, the refrigerator. The exact transition to serving Devilled Eggs as a cold dish remains unclear, but the refrigerator undeniably played a role in shaping the way the dish is presented today. 

So from the feasts of ancient Rome to the feasts of modern-day barbecues, Devilled Eggs have certainly had a long and colourful journey. And perhaps thinking about how every dish you encounter in your daily life could be centuries old might just become your Roman Empire.