[Sca-cooks] Murri

Lilinah lilinah at earthlink.net
Wed Jan 17 16:36:32 PST 2007

Gianotta wrote:
>Does anyone know of any scholarly theories why this ubiquitous 
>flavoring in medieval Arabic cooking virtually disappeared by the 
>15th century?

Nope, but i'd sure love to know if there are some...

I'd ask the same question about garum/liquamen, the Greco-Roman fish 
sauce. According to Andrew Dalby it was still being made in Byzantium 
when the Ottomans finally conquered it. The Ottoman Turks loathed 
fish, but the Christians and the poor in Istanbul continued to devour 
them. So it appears that fish sauce lasted at least into the 16th C., 
a bit past the conquest of Constantinople.

In fact, there are some Arabic language recipes specify "fish murri", 
which i interpret as being fish sauce/garum/liquamen.

>Since Charles Perry abandoned the carcinogenicity theory, has 
>anything come officially in its place?

Well, he not only abandoned the carcinogen theory, in early 1998 he 
*made murri from scratch* and documented the process in the LA Times. 
There's synopsis of his articles at:
You'll need to scroll down, down, down. Most of the top concerns the 
carcinogenic theory and Byzantine murri.

Perry said that essentially those "rotted" barley loaves were like 
koji, the base for Japanese soy sauce. And that following the 
directions, the resulting liquid, which is murri, was like a grain 
based soy sauce. He recommends using a soy sauce that is high in 
grain content (and lower in soy) to replace murri in recipes. In my 
study of several cookbooks, some actually specific to NOT use 
"Byzantine" or fake murri.

I got a hold of the text of Perry's murri-making articles and have 
used his conclusion as a reason to use mild soy sauce in some 14th C. 
Mamluk-period recipes in Cairene "The Book of the Description of 
Familiar Foods".

I don't mind using soy sauce, but i do find it disturbing to read 
"soy sauce" in Perry's translations of Medieval Arabic language 
recipes. I've considered diluting barley miso and using that, but i 
haven't tried that yet. I may get around to it this year.

>Could severe famines have anything to do with it? (With grain 
>shortages, one would imagine that making murri would fall off the 
>list of priorities of what to do with the barley). Or are there 
>other reasons?

This seems odd to me, since barley is only the basic grain for those 
in the Arab/Muslim world who are rather poor. Barley was eaten by 
some Berber/Amazight people - it may be the original couscous - and 
by Bedouins who have rare contact with villages. The grains of the 
cities were wheat - in breads, baked goods, porridges, etc. - and 
rice. My understanding is that barley is much hardier than wheat, and 
so it might have been available during a grain shortage - and, yes, i 
can see that people might stop making murri for a while - but why not 
go back when the grain shortage is over?

I suspect that the shortage could certainly contribute to the 
disappearance of murri, but i wonder if there weren't some other 
additional issues contributing, since there were other types of murri 
- such as fish murri and Byzantine/fake murri - that were also being 
made at the same time.

If you find any more information about the disappearance of grain and 
fish murris, i'd love to hear.

Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita

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