Ancient Romans Didn't Use Ketchup—They Had Garum

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It’s hard to imagine life without ketchup, soy sauce, and other condiments, but the ancient Romans seem to have lived well enough in their absence. Instead, their go-to solution for dressing up savory meats was garum—a fish-based sauce that is today known as colatura di alici.

Just like ketchup, there were different flavors of garum sauce. Food historians still quibble about the names and varieties, but the most modern incarnation of the ancient flavored topping is a salty, clear liquid made from fermented anchovies.

NPR reports that archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of garum factories in Spain, Portugal, and northern Africa—indicating that the sauce might have held the same place in Romans’ hearts that Heinz now holds in ours. But the once-ubiquitous garum became scarce after the Roman Empire collapsed, an archaeologist told NPR, and a new tax on salt caused the sauce—which was made by fermenting together salt and fish—to fade into obscurity. Another factor that might have led to the decline of garum factories was an increase in pirate attacks on the coastal cities that made it. 

In recent years, however, garum has made a comeback. Foodies and history buffs alike can hunt down their own bottle of colatura on Italy’s Amalfi coast, where some factories still make it. But if a plane ticket to Italy isn’t in your budget, there’s also a deli in Michigan that serves the fishy blend. And restaurants like Ava Gene’s in Portland, Oregon use garum to give contemporary dishes an ancient twist. 

[h/t The Guardian]