Umami in a Bottle: Homemade Garum

Homemade Garum

Here it is, the real deal! Amber-colored culinary gold! The first results from last summer’s backyard garum making!  As some of you may remember, back in June of last year I started making garum in my backyard with fresh mackerel and lots of sea salt.  I also wrote the “garum diaries” until mid-September which described the first 90 days or so of the initial enzymatic digestion of the fish.  I noted the surprising lack of odor despite the process of digestion and blow by blow described the changes in color and consistency in the garum-making vessel.

For the uninitiated, garum is the substance that was produced by the Carthaginians (and likely before by the same people in the Phoenician homelands of the Eastern Mediterranean) It was made from fish and salt and used to add a savory flavor to many foods that was otherwise lacking.  it was used on everything from meat and vegetables to desserts and wine depending on how it was prepared and mixed.  The Romans took over the lucrative garum production facilities from Carthage after conquest, and much of what we now about garum production comes from them.

Basket of Fish for Garum Making

I’ve learned a lot over the months and frankly found that a great deal of what is available on the internet on the production of garum is packed with contradictions.  Part of this is because scholarly work on garum is still in progress and people who study this issue for a living are still making up their minds about what garum is and isnt.

The most recent understanding of the terminology (provided to me by Sally Grainger) is that:  Liquamen refers to the whole-fish sauce made with all the viscera intact and sometimes extra viscera [presumably to speed the digestion process].  The enzymes in the viscera dissolve the fish into a thick sauce which yields a translucent, highly nutritious sauce when it is filtered or diluted.  It can be gathered by skimming the top of the ferment, or by letting it drip out of the paste that has been put in a colander.  It is extremely fishy, oily, and salty and packs a wallop of flavor.   Allec is the solid paste that is left after the liquamen is removed.  The Romans would pick this clean of bones, skin, fins and other fishy solids and use it as a paste on bread or as a condiment.  Given the taste of the allec I produced, I think it would have probably been mixed with olive oil, butter or animal fat to make it more palatable.  By personal choice, I would use butter.  I think then it would taste like country caviar – fresh sweet butter on a hunk of brown bread spread with fresh caviar – or allec. The Romans, however, might have used olive oil.

Muria is the sauce made when the fish are gutted and headed and the liquor that emerges is weak in protein and pale in colour. This probably corresponds best with the modern colatura di alici.  Lastly, there is haimation which is the liquid that is produced from just from blood and viscera.  This is garon haimation in Greek and garum or garum sociorum in Latin. It is black and bloody according to Galen.  .

Garum amphora

Another thing that my experience making garum taught me that varied from much of the historical information available was the quantity of garum produced and the speed at which it can be harvested.  Many of the early writings about garum speak of a basket being dipped into the ferment and the garum flowing into the basket.  Or if a barrel or container were used, directions are to puncture the barrel near the base and let the garum flow off.  This may be true for large-scale production such as those in vats, but it is not true for the casual backyard producer of garum.  With 15 pounds of mackerel and almost nine pounds of salt to start, nothing flows or gushes, it is harvested drip by excruciating drip and then filtered multiple times at the same glacial rate.  It takes patience and persistence – but it is worth it.

The slow speed of my garum harvest may be because of the rather high quantity of salt to fish I wound up using as well.  Its difficult to say with n=1 production experience.

After having produced garum, I am convinced that the few so-called quick recipes for “garum” in the ether cannot possibly produce the product that took nine months to create in my backyard.  These recipes call for the fish and salt to be cooked on the stove top or in a yogurt maker.  I’m not sure what these recipes produce – I suspect it is ordinary fish oil – but do I know that a few hours of heat cannot replace nine months of digestion. Because these authors describe the taste as, “not very fishy”, I know it cannot be garum.  The garum produced by digestion is fishy, salty, and quite oily and only a few drops (vice teaspoons or tablespoons) would be needed to flavor a dish. Even if adapted from historical (usually Byzantine) sources, these quick recipes produce a product that looks like garum, but doesn’t taste like it.  You can’t rush perfection.

Although the production of garum is not smelly, harvesting garum can be, unless steps are taken to minimize the smell.  You must cover containers that are used to harvest and filter the garum, wear old clothes and be prepared to do lots of dishes.  For the sensitive, I suggest surgical gloves – the odor permeates everything and is very hard to get rid of.  Lastly if you share your home with four-legged creatures, you will want to put them out or at least keep them away from the garum – they will be curious, and noisy.

So, what does it look like?  Interestingly, my garum is roughly the same color as its last living relative in the west – colatura di alici – the modern Italian fish sauce made from anchovies.  The garum is a bit more amber in color (as opposed to the colatura’s reddish brown color) even after five filtrations, but the color is much more similar than that of nuoc mam which comes in a variety of shades of dark brown.  The garum is also a bit more viscous than either of the two modern sauces – possibly due to the introduction of water in the modern production process, or possibly due to the different species of fish used.  If you are curious about the possible west-to-east flow of fish-sauce production technology in the ancient world, please see this essay.

So, what does it taste like?  It is saltier, way more fishy and a bit oiler than either the colatura di alici or the nuoc mam.  Garum from mackerel is more powerful as it hits the tongue, has a longer crest of flavor and remains stronger for a longer period of time as it fades. One can taste it in more places in the mouth than the colatura or nuoc mam as well. No matter where you place the garum – the flavor explodes in your mouth.  There is also a slight bitterness to the garum that is absent from the colatura or the nuoc mam.  Interestingly, the nuoc mam has fructose and hydrolyzed vegetable protein listed as ingredients.  These certainly affect the flavor of the sauce – especially the fructose. In short, the colatura and the nuoc mam taste more like each other than like the garum.  The nuoc mam has a more complex flavor than the colatura, but since both are made from anchovies, that probably is because of the added ingredients listed above.  The colatura claims only anchovies and salt as ingredients.  Garum is, without a doubt, umami in a bottle.


Glutamic Acid Formula

A word about umami.  Most of us were raised on the ancient Greek notion of four tastes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter.  I vividly remember “mapping” these tastes on our tongues in elementary school but placing different substances on different areas of the tongue with a cotton swab.  A combination of modern science and some talented tongues have turned this notion on its head, and research conducted largely in the 20th Century has explained umami for us.  Sort of like a sixth sense, umami is the “fifth taste” and represents savoriness. It is carried in a number of molecules – most notably in glutamic acid that most of us experience in the form of sodium glutamate.  Many foods are rich in glutamic acid – notably ripe tomatoes, celery, cheese, asparagus, meat, fish, and shellfish etc.  Of course, cooks and chefs have been combining these ingredients for years to create savory dishes.  Most notably the renowned western chef Escoffier used an instinctive knowledge of these ingredients for many of his dishes.

Kombu (kelp)

Kikunae Ikeda, the Japanese chemist who “discovered” umami worked with kombu a type of seaweed that Japanese cuisine uses in many dishes either as a vegetable or dried and dissolved in broth form with bonito fish flakes as dashi.  Ikeda coined the word “umami” from the Japanese “umai” which means delicious, nice or palatable as well as brothy, meaty or savory.  Both sets of meanings, as you can see, represent important aspects of umami taste perception.

What I find fascinating about umami is how little we truly understand it.  We know it has a flavor of its own – which changes depending how the molecule of glutamic acid is charged – but we suspect that it also changes other flavors to enhance them in a synergistic way.  Additionally, it also add a “mouthfullness” to food that adds to the positive perception of food flavor in the mouth.


Getting back to production, we digested the mackerel in salt in the backyard for nine months.  In the initial stages, we stirred the batch at least once a week, but as the fall and winter passed, the stirring decreased to only a couple of times a month.  To harvest the garum, first skim off any that rests on the top of the vat.  I did this with a teaspoon with the same technique as which I use to clarify butter or remove excess fat from the top of a stew or curry.

Next, fill a small colander with ferment pick out the large solids like bones and fins etc.  Wipe the outside surface of the colander and place above a receiving vessel.  Cover the colander with a plate to reduce odor and set in a place where it will not be disturbed.  I suggest placing in a garage or cellar, if left out of doors, local animals will easily remove the plate and make a mess of the ferment.

Every day a little more liquamen will drip out of the ferment.  Collect this and set aside.  There is no need to refrigerate – garum is so salty it will keep at room temperature nearly indefinitely.  However, it may be better to harvest and filter only what you need for short-term purposes as the biochemistry of the liquamen may change over time after it is exposed to light (which is why the Romans stored it in opaque amphorae.

Next comes the filtration.  The first filtration I did with commercial grade cheesecloth that was folded over into four layers.  This will remove the crude solids.  Then I switched to a funnel and commercial coffee filter and filtered the mixture four more times, each time after a period of rest to allow the solids to collect on the surface of the garum.

A word about garum being “clear”.  On the internet, the quick recipes for “garum” all mention that the product should be “clear”.  This concern is based on the concept of turbidity and is a caution against growing microorganisms instead of facilitating the enzymatic digestion of fish.  With the quick production method, this may be an issue, but it is not if you go about it over a series of months.  Garum isn’t clear and will never be clear with manual filtration.  Even after four passes with coffee filters, if the garum is allowed to sit, a thin layer of scum forms on the top of it.  If this is disturbed, the whole solution will become cloudy, only to settle out when left to rest for several hours or overnight.  The best that garum will ever be is a beautifully translucent amber.  Greater clarity could be achieved with a centrifuge, but that is out of reach for most people, and certainly never occurred to the Carthaginians, Greeks or Romans.

Where do we go from here?  We keep on harvesting the garum.  First by letting the liquid drip out of the raw ferment and then by performing dilutions with water of the allec that remains from the first harvest.  Then comes the fun part.  We start making the various mixtures that have been handed down to us from the Romans – using sweet and dry wine must, water, honey and olive oil and a variety of different spices.  Then, well then, comes the cooking.  So stay tuned.  There will be much more to learn about garum in coming months.  (Words by Laura Kelley; Photo of Homemade Garum by Laura Kelley; Other images from Wikimedia).


Additional:  I will be hosting an ancient Roman cookoff during the month of April to explore the many uses of garum.  In this effort, I will be joined by Charles Perry, Ken Albala, Sally Grainger, Napa winemaker David Mahaffey, Roman Restaranteur Paolo Magnanimi and the lovely polymath, Deana Sidney from Lost Past Remembered.


53 thoughts on “Umami in a Bottle: Homemade Garum

    • Hi Joumana:

      Glad you could drop by! I’ve added Taste of Beirut to my blogroll so I can better keep up with your posts.

      I have textual evidence of production of garum in Carthage and its territories, but need to chase down the refs to it in the Phonecian homeland. Not sure that they “invented” it – yet. There is talk of fish sauces from Mesopotamia made from shellfish – but that is a problem for another day.

      Come back soon!

  1. Wow, Laura. You are quite thorough and dedicated in your research/hands-on experimentation. I have always wanted to know more about garum, prized ingredient of ancient Rome. I did not know it was from Carthage originally; I assumed it was “Made in Italy”. Just recently in this video that ancient Roman olive oil was from Spain and then later from N. Africa!. Again I had assumed it came from the Italian peninsula.The video is about the Testaccio area of Rome where the amphorae of garum, wine and olive oil were transported from Ostia, up the Tiber and unloaded into warehouses. Monte Testaccio is made of the millions of “recycled” shards of the olive oil amphorae. The video is in Italian but you’ll get the idea from the images and recognize the elongated garum and wine jars and fat round olive oil jars.
    Thanks again for such an interesting post. Pia

    • Hi Pia:

      After Rome conquered Carthage it took its lands and everything that was produced on them – this included Northern African lands as well as Sicily and the Iberian peninsula. That said, these were then considered part of the empire and thus Roman.

      Thanks for the tip on the video – I’ll have a look soon!


    • Hi Pia:

      I watched the video. I love the millions of shards lying around on the ground and being crunched underfoot by the host – or being made into walls. I experienced walking on Roman-era pottery in Egypt in the palace of one of Ramses’ sons. I was sort of surprised by the use of, “salsa di fish – garum” instead of using the Italian word for fish – pesci.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing!


  2. Fascinating to hear what garum was like by trial, rather than from confident speculation.
    Next you ought to try the medieval Arab flavoring murri, which was made by mold-culturing barley dough. I’ve made it several times — it tastes like soy sauce, except that the Arabs always added spices, at least fennel and nigella.

    • Hi Charles:

      Thanks for stopping by. It is fascinating to breathe new life into an ancient ingredient or food culture – but I don’t need to tell you that.

      I just happen to have a vial of murri handy thanks to Deana Sidney and it has a real bite to it – I assume that is from the fennel, but I will check. I want to use it in a recipe and have to pick one out before I try making it.

      I tried making garum because I love colatura and nuoc mam and wanted to try the ancestor of both. When garum production is complete, I’m thinking of hosting a cookoff and sending samples to others to cook with. If you are interested, we would love to have you join us.

      If you are interested in more new interpretations, you might wish to check out what some of us did with some newly analyzed Mesopotamian recipes on the site.


  3. Fascinating and amazing and what a beautiful image. This is thrilling and I am thrilled that you did this work and reported back. Taking it all in, and sharing it in my web world.

    • Hi Nancie:

      Thanks for visiting and for sharing. Your enthusiam helps spur me on. Thanks also for focusing on the west to east flow of technology – I think that is one of many interesting tales that the Silk Road has to tell.


  4. How very interesting! The version I made (the recipe for which will be in the next cookbook) was also aged about 9 months, but I used fresh whole ungutted anchovies and salt. They stunk for about a week and thereafter were odorless. I didn’t filter anything, and literally just poured off the liquid. It’s not clear like yours, but very mellow. Not explosive in flavor or aroma, but quite delicate and oddly sweet. I’m thinking filtering might be a good idea now. Hang on, I’ll post if, if I can find a filter! Ken

    • Hi Ken:

      Did you slice the anchovies or chop them with shears? Also, how much salt did you use? The stink may have happened because the fish were whole and it took a while before the digestive juices could start digesting the fish.

      My ferment is so thick and pasty that I wonder if I used too much salt for 15 pounds of fish. The haimation is still dripping out and gathering on the surface of the main vessel. – so the process is working.

      I’d like to see more about your anchovy garum and the production process if you can post – let me know.


  5. Briliiant Laura. I have been waiting for this post. Did your fish have guts? That was one of the things I read somewhere that the digestive juices in the guts of the fish have an effect on the taste and the process. I so much want to see what it tastes like!!! I don’t have a backyard to try this process but so wish I could. It was the sauce for the Romans and you can’t cook like them without it. Fish sauce is such a pale substitute.

    Brava to you. The bottle is just gorgeous. How much did you end up with???

    • Hi Deana:

      Yes the mackerel kept their guts! I did chop them up – or rather my son did. I read that for larger fish (like mackerel, Martial’s favorite) this was necessary to facillitate the digestion process.

      We are still harvesting the haimation and because the ferment is so pasty, this will take some time – I’m guessing at least 1 month. Then I will produce liquamen as outlined in the essay and try a couple of ideas I have to make the allec palatable.

      When production is over, I am thinking of hosting a cookoff – If you want to play, you are so very welcome. I owe you a sample in return for the lovely murri you sent me.

      Thanks for comment on the “amphora” in the picture. A couple of weeks ago when I was starting the write up I had a WWDD (What Would Deana Do) moment and ordered the amphora online after rejecting all of the glassware that we had in the house.

      As stated above in my reply to Ken, I’m wondering about the salt content in the production process. Its not that difficult to do, so I’m thinking of doing it again with less salt and tuna. Not sure if i will yet – just want to finish this process up correctly first.

      Thanks for coming by!


  6. Living but hours from Asia the concept of ‘umami’ is naturally not strange, but the history and the story of garum is utterly fascinating. Live far enough away to be able to forego even the imagination of the smell – the look of it is quite, quite unreal! And thank you for the tip I should perchance go seek a column called ‘Taste of Beirut’!

    • Hi Eha:

      Thanks for stopping by. . . Don’t let the smell put you off. The flavor when used in combination is fabulous!


  7. Great article. Brava Laura, I love Colatura, also. I enjoyed the article and the video of Testaccio mentioned by Pia, above. Really interesting. In exchange, this is the video that shows you how the make colatura today, in Cetara, on the Amalfi Coast. This is the link:
    Grazie a tutti!

    • Hi Beatrice:

      Thanks for that! Did you see the amount of salt used? The older woman working with the traditional barrel was using handfuls of the stuff and making an opaque layer in between the layers of anchovies. This is what I did. Maybe I’m not so far off in my fish to salt ratio. One difference of degree I noted was that they also weighed the ferment down with what looked like a very heavy stone – we used a plate – no where near the same weight or effectiveness.

      Thanks for sharing!


      P.S. I have family on the Amalfi coast – perhaps I should visit and check out the colatura production there!

  8. Laura,

    Interesting isn’t it, that there are so many of us in foodie circles trying our hand at fermenting something. I’m still in the throws of sourdough ferments, one of them sweet but have never tried garum (and I’m not going to try until the kitchen is free of the overflowing mass of dough 🙂 ). Your experiment shows your dedication to the task and as usual, you’ve done an excellent job of explaining the process. I found your article too good not to read every last word… bit like the garum itself, waste not one drop!

    People have largely forgotten the importance of the fermentation of food in cultures around the world. It’s too easy to get preservative laden ingredients in packets and bottles, or for people to buy food without a second thought about how it was made. Those of us who are curious about the techniques involved are a select few I believe.


    p.s. I too am an admirer of that amphora jar, it’s a perfect vessel.

    • Hi Cid:

      Once again, we are in violent agreement! I have been toying with writing a post – in praise of rot – for some time now. Sort of a contrarian view to the farm fresh, seasonal, local movement. And I’m not going to feature wine, cheese and the usual suspects, but rather praise what age does for sauces, curries and meats etc

      Agree with you on the preservative issue. One of my gripes is also salt in commercial products. I can’t even eat some of the food because the salt in them burns my mouth.


    • Hi Kay:

      Welcome to the site! Glad you could join us! If you do try it, let us know how it goes! Stay tuned for more on garum and its various dilutions. . .


  9. Thank you for this fascinating post, Laura. I truly enjoyed how meticulously you explained the process. I think my partner would object to living with a barrel of rotting (ok, fermenting) fish in our garage, although the cats would definitely be in favour. I am particularly intrigued by the different results depending on the type of fish you choose, I hope Ken manages to post more information as well.

    A little note on umami: you say it influences our perception of other tastes, and I tend to agree with it; I have read somewhere that this is to some extent true for other flavours as well. For instance I often think a dish is not seasoned enough, but if I add lemon juice to it, then it tastes right. Or again, very bitter artichokes and radicchio tend to leave the sweetest sensation in the mouth. Perception is indeed a fascinating subject.

    I look forward to the posts to come on this subject.

    • Hi C:

      Check out the video Beatrice posted to see how modern colatura production is done. That’s basically how I did the garum with mackerel, only it was in a large painter’s bucket made of plastic (which might have allowed less air in). it has to get warm (hot) and it has to be stirred about once a week to make sure the digestion is taking place evenly.

      As to taste – yes, it is a very individual thing. Some of the scientific papers I read on umami show that different charges on the glutamic acid molecule (positive or negative) taste different from each other. We know that men and women taste and smell things differently from each other and that there are differences between how young people perceive taste to how older and elderly people perceive taste.

      If I have a cookoff, I you are welcome to cook with us – you did such a rocking job on the Mesopotamian dish, I’d love to see what you do with garum. The Apician recipies are similar to the Mesopotamian ones as well – just a list of ingredients – no amounts, little or no “method” most of the time.


  10. What a treat to find you, so complete and detailed and engaged with fish sauce questions, and I imagine anything else you take on you delve into as thoroughly. Shanti Wallah posted a link to this and to your backgournd post on my FB page. Now I’ll be reading you regularly. I still think, though, that the Khmer came up with prahok as a way of dealing with the bounty of the Tonle Sap, and the idea, and its more refine offspring, spread from there…there’s a fish sauce line in SE ASia north of which people do NOT have it, and it coincides roughly with the extent of Khmer conquest. So it’s in Burma, central and southern Thailand and in Vietnam (carried north there), but not a tradition with the Shan (Tai Yai nor with the Tai peoples who live in China

    • Hi Naomi:

      Thank you for visiting! I read your blog sometimes and like the images you conjure in the course of your essays.

      It is always possible that the Khmer came up with the idea independently. However, as a scientist, I’m somewhat of a stickler for evidence. So far, my studies do not point for an independent invention of fish sauce in the east.

      The earliest eastern textual reference I’ve been able to locate so far comes from China’s Qimin Yaoshu in the 6th Century ACE which is about 1000 years after statements about Carthaginian production.

      Also, there is evidence of fish sauce (and other meat sauce) production in China and Japan that tapers off in about the 14th Century ACE when soy sauces get strong foothold – so the patterns evident today do not necessarily equate with historical production. I understand that not all of history is recorded, but the Chinese were complusive communicators and recorders of daily life from periods well predating the Qimin Yaoshu.

      To me, the use of freshwater fish in Cambodia and Laos is simply using the what was available – the ancient Egyptians salted fish and possibly made a sort of fish sauce from Nile’s bounty.

      Its possible (probable?) that Khmer production is not textually recorded, but there should be evidence somwhere – in archaeological assemblages, somewhere. Perhaps one of us will find evidence for or against this hypothesis someday.

      Right now, I’m tackling the Phoenician story – and its interesting there is ancient fish sauce production all over the Eastern Mediterranean from Cyprus through Gallilee. They even produced “Kosher” fish sauce from particular varieties of fish possessing scales and fins. What’s cool is that the archaeologists writing these papers are all looking to Rome as the source of the fish sauce – not realizing that it is a very old and extremely lucrative Levantine business.

      Anyway, thank you for visiting – if you find further information on production of fish sauce in the east that predates the Qimin Yaoshu, please let me know.


  11. Laura,
    That’s one of the best and most comprehensive blog posts I’ve ever read. What an amazing experiment. Fascinating.


  12. Wow – I was never aware, about garum and its properties. Fantastic article.
    While I am a fan of umami but not at all a fan of anything fishy, I would not really use it that much.

    You mentioned, that there is always scum collecting on the surface of the liquid. Why don’t you siphon the mixture? That would “suck” the good stuff below the surface… off course you would have still a rather big amount of liquid left – however you could collect from several batches and siphon again to increase the yield.

    • Hi Dominick

      Thanks for visiting.

      A siphon would probably take too much garum off with the fat that settles out (sort of like the leftovers of a soup or stew). I could micropipette it of course. However, I filtered it a few more times and found that it hasn’t come back again.

      Keep reading and commenting – the cookoff is going to be a lot of fun.


  13. Very interesting, thank you. Your article really does justice to that fascinating product that is garum.
    I am also one of the few people who, curious about Roman historiy and life, tried the production of garum. I did it with fresh anchovies, which are quite common in France where I live, in a jar put on the heater in the kitchen, as long as our weather is too cold and rainy to put the garum outdoors.
    The result is indeed impressive.

    I kept also the hallec, which had the strange feature to have all the bones digested by the fermentation ; the only firm part which had survived was the small anchovies’ eyes, that looked like 1mm glass marbles. Otherwise the paste results very salty, very tasty and dissolvated in water or vinegar can also be used in cooking since all the bones melt.

    I am currently making a special “mullogarum” with Mullus surmuletus (red mullet?) guts and livers only, as long as this fish suscitated special interest among Romans (see Galenus, Plinius and Seneca) and its garum was one of the most prized. I have an arrangement with my fishmonger and I can ask him to keep all the guts of the fish he sells and cleans so I can make pure gut garum, as made in ancient times. Fishmongers in Greece and Rome would probably have kept all their guts to make similarly gut garum and hence a free profit, that fits with the image of fishmongers as crooks and thieves given by Aelian.

    I have also tried recently to put fish guts and salt in pure unfermented “mustum” made of organic grapes (with all the bacteria) and it began after one night to make bubbles (the “flos per se”) and to exhalate a pungent smell of rotten medlars. I hope it will affinate into something palatable. This is the original oinogaron of Greek authors, perhaps Romans were not as brave and mixed wine and fish when both were already fermented, as you describe in your other post.

    • Dear Peter:

      Thank you for your lovely comment!

      The bones dissolved because you used anchovies. I still had bones to pick out of the mackerel allec becasue it was a medium sized fish. Keep us posted on the results of the “mullogarum” and the mustum experiment. If results are noteworthy, your are invited to do a guest post if you are willing to share the details of your work with the Silk Road Gourmet audience.

      Thanks for letting me know about your projects!


      • Dear Laura,
        Mullogarum enim videtur crassius esse. Cujus adipes cito in ranciditate veniunt, ego quippe conatus id excipere sed timeor ne gratum gustu fore-

        • Non satius enim mea *anglicitas est ut aliquid libelli scriberem in isto foro. Quinetiam libenter certiorem te faciam de conditoriis meis !

        • Hi Peter:

          I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work for you. If you’d like to tell me the proportions of ingredients you used, I might be able to advise.

          Without knowing anything about what you did, I’m guessing that the livers and other entrails were not kept consistenly cold before being processed and bacterial overgrowth had a chance to start. That and/or the amount to salt was not high enough to keep the “bad” bacteria down.

          • Hi
            I am sorry, I had written my replies quite late in the evening and as I did not find my words in english in which I am not very fluent (I am French), I thought that Latin would be alright with you. It seems not…
            The problem is not of bacterial nature, but the mulli guts are too fat and it did not take much time to turn rancid. The rancid fish oil goes on the top of the jar and although I discard it each day, new drops appear as the enzymes digest the whole mass. I thought about putting some sesame oil on the top since it contains natural anti-oxiding agents but I was not sure of my cause.

  14. Awesome article!!!

    I have a rather off the wall question for you – where did you get the hanging bottle?!?!

    Have you ever read any of Sally Grainger’s work? In Ancient Roman Foodie circles she is considered THE fish sauce expert.

    • I know Sally well on a professional basis. She participated in my Ancient Roman Cookoff earlier in the year. And yes, if you read the post carefully, I use the terminology that she gave me and cite her for it.

  15. Dear Laura,

    I am interested in your thoughts about Garum and sunlight. Is there research suggesting that it is best stored in clay? an Opaque container?
    The Romans of course made glass but it wasn’t as strong as the clay vessels that they stored liquid foods and beverages in.

    also did you know that Mackerel contains Histamines? It is necessary to have the proper amount of salt to kill them and make it safe to eat for those suffering from any asthma.

    thank you for all your excellent research.

    Lauren Stacy Berdy

    • Hi Lauren:

      Sorry for the delay in replying – I’ve been away.

      Yes, I think that garum is best stored in opaque containers once filtered for greatest stability of the contents (and continued high protein levels). To that end, the clay amphorae, sometimes coated with pitch, are probably not an accident of storage or custom, but one recognized to keep the taste “fresh”.

      It is also possible to harvest only what is needed for immediate use. To that end, at least some garum production may have been JIT (just-in-time) like much of today’s food.

      As to mackerel containing histamines and havign the risk of scrombotoxin. . . I wouldn’t worry about it. Hygiene and temperature control is how this this is managedwith scromboid fish in the current food industry. I imagine that garum production is pretty much the same. That and the extreme amounts of salt used in garum prevention is a pretty good preventative.

      Thanks for writing!

  16. Hi there – only 3 years late, but I loved your article. Well done to you! Do you sell any of it?! I’d love to taste it – especially as I’ve written 9 novels set in ancient Rome. Best wishes to you.

    • Hi Ben: I’d love to produce it for the artisanal market, but not sure how to get started. Its easy to do, if you have a yard or some space (not a good project for apartment-dwelling urbanites), you might consider trying it yourself. Will check out you books as well!

  17. Laura – Fascinating article. I’m wondering if you are continuing to experiment with this, trying different fish, aging some batches longer, etc. and what your further results have been. I found your article through a search for Worcestershire sauce clones, and now I’m pondering what else might go into a garum base to take it in the steak sauce direction.

    I’m mindful that the original Worcestershire almost never made it to market, as the first batches were pretty much inedible. It was allegedly only after the barrels of the mix, somewhat forgotten for a few years of sitting in storage, were rediscovered and found to have benefitted from the aging, that the sauce founds its legs and took off.

    All the best to all y’all.
    “Where there’s smoke, there’s meat!”
    – Clarence “Porkchop” Dupree

    • Hi Clarence: I haven’t done anything further with garum except work with a California vintner to reformulate the mixture of garum and wine known as oenogarum. David Mahaffey, the vintner, has an exquisite palate and also worked with a wine from varietals that the ancient Romans had available. I also have explored a few recipes from Apicius and others using garum on fruit. However, I have not worked on the sauce for meat issue. Keep me posted and good luck!

  18. I loved this article. Does your book have more detailed step-by-step instructions on making garum? My wife and I make kombucha and many other fermented drinks, so we aren’t strangers to the process of fermentation. But 9 months!!! Also, we live in Oklahoma. Could we use freshwater fish for this recipe or should we use saltwater fish? Last question: all the mosaics and pictures I have seen of the garum-making process shows a variety of fish in the same basket. Should we consider multiple species blends or do a single species sauce like you did? Would it be more authentic to use multiple?

    • Hi Ryan: The most detailed instructions on the process are here on the site. My book is about modern food on the Western and Southern Asia, the patterns of ingredients, dishes and preparation methods and a bit of history and anthropology illuminating how they likely got that way. You could probably digest the fish in less time than 9 months. I waited a long time, because winter got in the way. As to species, the more oily the fish the better: Tuna, mackerel, anchovies, etc. I have never heard of any historical populations using freshwater fish. The Romans and Carthaginians (and probably the Phoenicians before them) all used salt-water fish. However, some of the modern Asian sauces are made with freshwater fish (and shellfish)- but these are a lot thinner, less strong tasting and with a lower protein content than saltwater-produced garum or colatura. If you tried freshwater fish, I would also have a separate bucket for saltwater fish, so you know how it should taste. It would be most historically authentic to use one type of fish. Sauces were considered of different qualities, and not mixed in the making. Good luck! Keep me posted on the results!

  19. I am a fan of your article. I too like to experiment with different foods. I do a bit of fermentation with kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, beer, etc. I have traveled extensively and love to try the local foods wherever I go. I am in the process of using small whole bait fish (pilchards) in trying to make the fish sauce. I was wondering if you had any opinions about using an immersion blender to reduce the size of the pieces. I wonder if that would speed the process of self digestion. I am primarily interested in the liquids from the process so I don’t think that the hard solids would present a problem.

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