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Roman Food

Italy's soil and climate

The factors of Italy's fertility:

  • soil contains chemical elements
  • abundant rainfall
  • numerous rivers and streams

Modified by:

  • surrounding seas
  • mountain ranges
  • prevailing winds

Foods of early days

An early Roman diet consisted of:

  • meat
  • wild fruits
  • nuts

** many names derived from agriculture:

  • pecunia-money;pecu-flocks
  • Cicero-chickpea
  • Piso-miller
  • Caepio-onion
  • Porcius-porcus-pig

Early staples were:

  • grapes
  • olives
  • grain


Early fruits were:

  • apples
  • pears
  • plums
  • quinces

because they were abundant and cheap

New fruits introduced later were:

  • apricots
  • peaches
  • pomegranates
  • cherries

These fruits were introduced by Lucullus at Cerasus at Pontus

**Lemons came at the third century**


Nuts that Romans ate:

  • almonds
  • filberts
  • hazelnuts
  • pistachios
  • walnuts

The Romans would introduced their fruits to wherever they settled.

Garden Produce

Vegetables mentioned were:

  • Artichokes
  • Carrots
  • Melons
  • Asparagus
  • Chicory
  • Onions
  • Beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Beets
  • Garlic
  • Poppy Seeds
  • Cabbage
  • Lentils
  • Pumpkins
  • Radishes
  • Turnips

Romans NEVER ate:

  • corn
  • poatoes
  • tomatoes

Early Roman veggies:

  • onions - later considered unrefined
  • beans - later considered too heavy
  • cabbage

The wealthy often imported veggies

Other common veggies

  • cress
  • lettuce
  • mallows

Seasoning used were:

  • poppy seeds
  • anise
  • cumin
  • fennel
  • mint
  • mustard
  • PEPPER from the Orient


Romans ate beef rarely. It was a mark of luxury and was eaten only on special occastions. When a cow had been sacrificed to the gods, the heart, liver, and lungs would be given to the priests, with certain portions burned on the altar. A reason why beef was rarely eaten was due to its size. Only the coldest weather could allow the beef to stay fresh. Cows were usually used for draft and dairy reasons rather than consumption.

Pork was the most popular. It had several names; sus, porcus, porca, and aper. There were fifty different ways of cooking pork as well as six kinds of sausages based on pork. In the religious ceremony suovetauralia (sus+ovis+taurus), the pig had the first place. Others meats such as mutton and veal was also consumed. Goat's meat was eaten by mostly lower classes.

Fowl and Game

Domestic fowls the Romans ate:

  • chickens
  • ducks
  • geese
  • pigeons


Wild fowls the Romans ate:

  • cranes
  • grouse
  • partridge
  • snipe
  • woodcock

The Romans also bred wild animals such as hares and boars, which were roasted and served. The dormouse was considered a delicacy.


In the early times, fish was rarely consumed by the Romans. However, before the end of the Republic, this item, either a fresh or rare fish, brought the highest price. There was mullet (mullus) and a kind of turbot (rhombus). Fresh fish were expensive. Rich men had fishponds to breed fish. Salt fish, imported from most Mediterranean harbours, were cheap. A common dish of salt fish, eggs, and cheese was especially popular. Oysters were a delicacy.

Dairy Products

Dairy products used by the Romans:

  • milk
  • cream
  • curds
  • whey
  • cheese

Cheese from:

  • ewe's milk was more digestible
  • cow's milk was more palatable
  • goat's milk was more popular, but considered less digestible

Honey was used as a sweetener. Salt was used for seasoning. It was first obtained by evaporating sea water, but later it was mined. Salt was a government monopoly, and the price was kept low.


The general term for any grain grown for food is frumentum. The word "corn" also referred to grain, but not as the corn (maize) known today.

Romans ate:

  • wheat
  • barley
  • oats
  • rye
  • spelt- - far - its use was gradually only reduced to using for cakes of the confarreate ceremony

Preparation of Grain

The grain was pounded by mortar. The resulting meal was mixed with water and made into a kind of "puls". Men who ground the grain were called pistores or . In later times, bakers were also called pistores because the ground the grain as well as bake the bread.

Grinding the Grain

There was also a miniature version used by soldiers for turning grain. In the later times of the Empire, water mills were introduced.

Porridge to Bread

There were professional bakers as early as 171 B.C..Before that, bread was made by the mater familias or by slaves under her supervision. After public bakeries were open, home-made bread-making was not practiced unless the family was either wealthy or living in the country. The Empoeror Trajan(A.D. 98-117) made it custom to distribute bread daily to the unemployed, instead of giving grain once a month. Bakers were often organized into guilds, enjoying certain privileges and immunities.



  • Flour
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Yeast
  1. Add all ingredients together.
  2. Knead in trough or a simple machine
  3. Put in mold and bake in oven.
  4. Sprinkle water frequently to get a hard crust.

**Bread was baked in brick ovens. There would a fire in the oven with an opening to provide ventilation. A surrounding chamber contained the heat after the ash pit(usually from charcoal) had been raked out and the opening closed. There was also a receptacle for water for sprinkling the bread. After the oven had been heated, the vents would be closed, the fire raked out, and the dough would be left in oven left to bake.

Kinds of Bread

The best kind of bread was made from fine wheat flour.

Other kinds of bread:

  • bread
  • plebeius
  • castrensis
  • sordidus
  • rusticus
  • name
  • common
  • army
  • dark
  • country

made from...

  • coarse wheat flour
  • flour and bran
  • bran alone

During the first century, white bread was preferred over brown bread, although brown bread was more nutritious. Loaves were circular and flat, divided into slices of three to four parts. Cakes and confections were also produced in some bakeries.

The Useful Olive

Olives were second most important to wheat. The best olives came from Italy. The best oil came from not fully ripe olives, although the most oil came from fully ripe olives.

Olives were used as:

  • butter/fats
  • relishes/dressings
  • fruit(fresh/preserved)


  • olives
  • salt
  1. Sprinkle with salt and leave it alone for five days.
  2. After five days, shake salt off and dry in the sun or keep in boiled grape juice.

Half-ripe olives were picked with stems, placed in jars and covered with the best quality of oil. This was believed to retain the fresh flavor for more than a year. Green olives were pickled in strong brine, or crushed and preserved with spices and vinegar. This would be served as a relish. Aother relish used green, half-ripe, or ripe olives. The olives were chopped into pulp, seasoned with vinegar, coriander seeds, cumin, fennel, and mint. The resulting mixture was placed in jars. Oil was pour over to make it airtight. This would be served with cheese.

Roman Beverages

Grapes were consumed fresh and dried, but GRAPES WERE MAINLY USED FOR WINE

Common beverages were:

  • water
  • milk
  • wine

Wine was usually diluted, with more water than wine. To drink undiluted wine was considered uncivilized by the Romans. Wine was usually cheap enough to be sold at a few cents a quart under the Empire. Mentioned in Latin literature were:

  • mulsum - 4 parts wine - 1 part honey
  • mulsa - water+honey fermented
  • apple cider
  • wine from mulberries and dates
  • cordials from aromatic plants