Garum – The Roman Ketchup : Part 2 – Testing Heinrich Wunderlich’s Recipe

Heinrich Wunderlich, on his German page:  Garum oder Liquamen der Alten, provides a method by which the industrial method of garum production can be reduced to quantities which can be produced in the culina, in sealed jars.

Kilner jar after shaking

Fresh sprats being available, I decided to replicate the recipe and see how well it worked. Equipped with a Kilner jar, sprats and salt, I set to.

I purchased 2lb of sprats, 1lb of which was for the experiment and 1lb for cooking a paella.

Since the sprats for the paella did not require the offal, I gutted them and added them to the salted sprats which were lined whole in the Kilner jar in alternating layers of sprat/offal and salt.

Produced salt liquid, submerging half
of the fish after three hours.

Once the Kilner jar was full, the lid was sealed and shaken to ensure that the salt was evenly covering everything in the jar.

The jar was left to stand (there being a heatwave at the time) and observed at regular intervals).

What was immediately noticeable was that the salt was instantly causing the liquids within the sprats to seep out of the fish, resulting in the rapid submerging of the fish in a salt liquid.

Produced salt liquid submerging all of
the sprats after 12 hours

Within three hours, the liquid was filling half of the depth of the Kilner jar. Within 12 hours, the liquid had filled the jar.

In preparation for reproducing this process, a few months ago, I purchase a yoghurt incubator, but I need to perform a little manipulation of the Kilner spring in order to make it fit.

Within five hours of placing the Kilner jar into the incubator, the liquid had expanded and the internal pressure was causing it to seep out past the rubber seal, resulting in a crystalisation of the salt on the outside of the jar. In order to stop this, I hastily sterilised an old olive jar and transferred the floculence into it.

Unfortunately the lid of the incubator will not fit on, thanks to the size of the olive jar, but I hope that this doesn’t result in too much heat loss from the incubator.

Floculence transferred
to olive jar
Olive jar in incubator


Floculence after 15

After fifteen days, the garum was beginning to separate from the floculence. What was surprising about this was that the garum was appearing at the bottom of the container, not the top.

This seems at odds with the description that a fine woven basket was pushed into the top in order to extract the garum.

Garum at the bottom of the jar
after 20 days.

After 20 days the garum at the bottom of the jar was quite clear. There was a deposit on the bottom of the jar of material which was obviously denser than the garum, while the floculence itself was less dense than the garum and remained floating above it.

There was no significant observational change between day 20 and day 30.

Liquid draining into bowl

On day 30, the contents of the jar were poured into a fine sieve so that the liquid would drain into a bowl. A towel was placed over the bowl and sieve to ensure against airborne contaminants. The whole sieving process required five hours.

The resultant liquid contained particulates, making the garum cloudy. Is it possible that the liquid in this state, constituted ‘garum’ while the clarified liquid was ‘liquamen’? There may be something in this, considering that the ‘mock garum’ recipe, which was made from alec, would undoubtedly be cloudy.

Right: liquid after sieving. 
Left: liquid after filtering.

In any case, I decided to filter the liquid. Using the cut up top of a 250ml mineral water bottle and a paper kitchen towel (I was unable to get filter paper quickly since my homebrew shop has moved over to the next town), I started filtering the liquid into a sterilised bottle.

Alec after all of the liquid was drained

The alec was placed into a plastic container and frozen, to keep for the next experiment, which will be making mock-garum.

The final product: ⅓ pint of garum

Coming next…

Making ‘Mock-Garum’

Reconstructing an industrial process

Creating a miniature garum tank

Experiment 2: Recreating the process on a small scale

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