We May Have the Ancient Romans to Thank for Hamburgers

vvmich, iStock via Getty Images
vvmich, iStock via Getty Images / vvmich, iStock via Getty Images

Before the Whopper and the Big Mac, there was isicia omentata. Seasoned with white wine and fish sauce, the ancient Roman recipe hardly resembles fast food, but experts believe it could be history's earliest example of a hamburger, IFL Science reports.

The cookbook Apicius, which dates from the fourth or fifth century and was likely named for the famously gluttonous Roman foodie Marcus Gavius Apicius, provides a glimpse into the extravagant diets of early Rome's upper class. One of the more familiar recipes in the tome is a minced meat patty served with a bread roll—in other words, a burger in the barest sense of the term.

Isicia omentata wasn't intended to be a cheap bite for the hungry commoner like today's burgers are. The meat was flavored with ingredients like pine nuts, peppercorns, and a fermented fish sauce called garum. (Though adding seafood to your burger may seem strange today, garum wasn't that different from the Chinese fish sauce that eventually evolved into present-day ketchup.) The roll that came with it was soaked in white wine—a departure from your average sesame seed bun.

It's unclear if this dish had any influence on the modern hamburger. Many experts credit German immigrants with bringing minced meat patties from Hamburg to the United States. Known as "Hamburg steaks," those first patties were served without buns, and they were also considered gourmet cuisine. The hamburger's affordability is a relatively recent development in the food's history.

If you're interested in dining as the Romans did, you can find the recipe for isicia omentata online. Fries are optional.

[h/t IFL Science]