[Sca-cooks] lard vs. olive oil vs. butter

lilinah at earthlink.net lilinah at earthlink.net
Fri Nov 21 23:53:53 PST 2008

Bear wrote:
> From what I've read, the local fats of southern Europe tended to
> be lard rather than butter and I'm curious as to how extensively 
> butter was used in the Moslem cultures of the period.

The most common cooking fat in primarily Muslim cultures was sheep tail fat from fat tail sheep. This is true in the 'Abbasid cookbooks (ibn Sayyar al-Warraq (9th & 10th c.) and al-Baghdadi (1226)) and Ottoman recipes (15th c.). And it is also used in al-Andalus. It is used for meat dishes and occasionally shows up in sweets.

In the 'Abbasid cookbooks, sesame oil is the second most common cooking oil. It is used for savories and sweets. Of course, this is UNroasted sesame oil, not the dark stuff used to flavor East Asian dishes and not for cooking. I think it is not much used in 13th c. al-Andalus, but i'll have to double check. Sesame oil is used for some 15th and 16th c. Ottoman sweets, but rarely savories.

It is assumed that when oil is called for, and sesame oil is not mentioned, then it is olive oil, in 'Abbasid cookbooks. They almost never specify olive oil by name, although olives are used. It is also common in Andalusi recipes. But olive oil was *never* used for cooking in the kitchens of the Ottoman Sultans in 15th and 16th century Constantinople. It is likely that the common people used olive oil, but it doesn't figure in any surviving Ottoman recipes.

Finally, butter is the preferred fat for sweets in Ottoman recipes, and is also used in some savories. Butter is only rarely used in 'Abbasid recipes. Andalusi recipes use butter in some sweets and pastries.

As for the recipes in the 14th century Mamluk Egyptian cookbook, the Book of the Description of Familiar Foods, i'll have to go double check. The core of the book is a copy of al-Baghdadi, which reflect the above comments, but hundreds more recipes have been added from other sources and i'm not certain what they call for off the top of my head.
Urtatim (that's urr-tah-TEEM)

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