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Taking ‘brain food’ literally – baked brains with roasted roses, another disgusting ancient food           Source: Dubnytskaya Photo / Adobe Stock

Nine Absolutely Disgusting Ancient Foods Our Ancestors Enjoyed

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Cuisine is an essential aspect of one’s culture. The meals enjoyed by various communities in ancient times have evolved throughout history to become the foods we know and love today. However, these foods weren’t always as delicious as many of our primary foods now. In fact, many of the foods our ancestors ate would be considered absolutely disgusting today, even if they were enjoyed at the time. Below, we’ll share some of the grossest meals enjoyed by those who came before us. 

1.    Flamingo Tongue

Most of us would hesitate to eat a flamingo in the first place, let alone its tongue. However, our ancestors had other thoughts. Flamingos were enjoyed as an ancient meal just like any other bird, including chickens, ducks, peacocks, ostriches, and even parrots. Flamingo tongue was considered a delicacy, as flamingos were seen as a status of wealth in ancient Rome. Only those with significant wealth could afford to eat flamingo tongues, so eating this meal was rare for most people. 

Eating flamingo tongue may seem like a disgusting ancient food, but it was a status symbol in ancient Rome. (Cuatrock77 / CC BY SA 2.0)

Eating flamingo tongue may seem like a disgusting ancient food, but it was a status symbol in ancient Rome. (Cuatrock77 / CC BY SA 2.0 )

2.    Garum

Garum was a popular fermented fish sauce in ancient Rome. Romans would combine fish intestines, blood, vinegar, honey, herbs, and spices and let this concoction ferment in the sun for several months. Although the sauce was made with the ‘throwaway’ parts of the fish, this sauce was actually pretty expensive since it took so long to make. It was also sometimes hard to find, as the sauce was only allowed to be made outside of the city due to the strong stench while it fermented

Garum was a type of fermented fish sauce, not altogether dissimilar from fish sauce in Vietnamese cuisine, or anchovy sauce in Italy. Still, some may think this is a disgusting ancient food ( Fanfo / Adobe Stock)

3.    Sow’s Womb

While pork belly is a common dish nowadays, sow’s womb took a backseat for the last several centuries. Sow’s womb was a popular delicacy made of a sow’s belly and udders. The meat would be seasoned and prepared with laser-root, vinegar, broth, honey, celery seed, pepper, and mint before being grilled. Some people would even use it to make a larger dish containing fish and poultry by layering all the meats together. 

Offal through the years – while today, pork belly or tripe are relatively common, sow’s womb is no longer considered a delicacy. Mosaic of a truffle pig, circa 200 AD (Public Domain)

Offal through the years – while today, pork belly or tripe are relatively common, sow’s womb is no longer considered a delicacy. Mosaic of a truffle pig, circa 200 AD ( Public Domain )

4.    Stuffed Dormice

Ancient Romans frequently had a dormice problem. The solution? Stuff them and eat them! Dormice would be caught in homes and fed nuts and acorns to fatten them up before being killed for food. Then, they would be stuffed with meat, nuts, and herbs before being roasted to perfection. While most of us probably couldn’t see ourselves eating a rodent, ancient Romans seemed to think they were delicious. 

Another disgusting ancient food - ancient Romans would catch dormice and fatten them up in jars before stuffing and eating them. (Left: Public Domain; Right: Viscondedeportoseguro / CC BY SA 4.0)

Another disgusting ancient food - ancient Romans would catch dormice and fatten them up in jars before stuffing and eating them. (Left: Public Domain ; Right: Viscondedeportoseguro / CC BY SA 4.0 )

5.    Live Bird Pie

Yes, you read that right. Some ancient recipes are notable for containing live animals in them! However, the live animals are not actually consumed in the dish. For live bird pie, a pie is created with a large dome crust on top, under which live birds are stuffed. The idea is that the birds will fly out in a giant spectacle once the crust is cut into. While this may sound cool, we can’t imagine having live birds hanging out (and pooping) inside your food is a particularly healthy idea. 

6.    Apician Jelly

If you’ve heard of aspic, you’re already somewhat familiar with this horror. One of ancient Rome’s favorite foods was Apician jelly. Apician jelly is a savory jelly made with chicken, lamb, nuts, raisins, shallots, pickles, vinegar, oil, and herbs. The meats are used to make a savory broth , into which the other ingredients are mixed. Then, this concoction is left in the snow for a few days to congeal and become jelly. It’s then dug up and served with goat cheese and dressing. 

A Roman feast featured some disgusting ancient foods we’d turn our noses up at today. Late 19th century painting by Roberto Bompiani (Public Domain)

A Roman feast featured some disgusting ancient foods we’d turn our noses up at today. Late 19th century painting by Roberto Bompiani ( Public Domain )

7.    Poop Wine

Probably one of the grossest on this list, ttongsul is a medicinal rice wine that is made of feces. Ttongsul was traditionally made in Korea centuries ago and was used for medicinal purposes . People who still believe in the power of ttongsul claim it can help heal bruises, cuts, broken bones, and even epilepsy. The wine is made by refrigerating feces (either of human children or animals) for several days, mixing it with water, and fermenting it with rice and yeast. Luckily, it is not widely made anymore.

Ttongsul may be the most disgusting ancient food on this list – fermented feces ‘wine’ (Public Domain)

Ttongsul may be the most disgusting ancient food on this list – fermented feces ‘wine’ ( Public Domain )

8.    Rose Pie

The name rose pie, also known as “patina de rosis,” is heavily misleading. While rose petals were indeed incorporated into rose pie, this pie’s base was actually made of cooked calf brains. The brains would be cooked and creamed into a paste to fill an entire pie before being baked again until the consistency became thicker. It would also have some rose petals crushed into it and sprinkled on top for decoration. 

9.    Milk-Soaked Lungs

Humans have eaten all sorts of organs throughout the years, but what about lungs? In ancient times, some people used to eat the lungs of animals as a special meal. The lungs would be soaked in milk to keep them moist and extract any strong odor from their tissues. They would then be stuffed with ingredients such as eggs, honey, salt, and a variety of herbs to give them flavor. The seasoned and stuffed lungs would then be boiled to cook before being served in slices. 

I’ll Just Have a Sandwich, Thanks

Clearly, mealtime wasn’t always as appetizing as it is today. The good news is that many of these recipes are no longer circulating, so you don’t have to worry about being served a stuffed dormouse the next time you dine out. The next time the kitchen staff makes an error in your order, just remember: it could be worse!

Top image: Taking ‘brain food’ literally – baked brains with roasted roses, another disgusting ancient food           Source: Dubnytskaya Photo / Adobe Stock

By Lex Leigh

References

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Korean poo wine . VICE. August 19, 2013. Available at: https://www.vice.com/en/article/7b7zmg/how-to-make-faeces-wine  

Moreno, L. January 20, 2019. Not quite spaghetti: 10 ancient rome recipes we want to try, 10 we would rather leave behind in history . TheRecipe. Available at: https://www.therecipe.com/ancient-rome-recipes-want-try-rather-leave-behind-history/  

Narula, B. April 10, 2021. 12 weirdest foods from Ancient Roman cuisine . Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/lessons-from-history/12-weirdest-foods-from-ancient-roman-cuisine-9ae529f50568#:~:text=We%20rarely%20think%20of%20the,about%20putting%20in%20their%20mouth

Patel, M., & Florida, M. P. U. of. August 4, 2017. 7 weird ancient Roman recipes (fish balls included) . Spoon University. Available at: https://spoonuniversity.com/recipe/the-romans-loved-fish-balls-and-other-weird-ancient-recipes  

Rutherford-Morrison, L. April 9, 2015. 9 bizarre foods that people actually ate throughout history, from Ancient Rome to the 1950s . Bustle. Available at: https://www.bustle.com/articles/73642-9-bizarre-foods-that-people-actually-ate-throughout-history-from-ancient-rome-to-the-1950s  

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