Ancient Romans not only loved to spice up their meals but also to flavor their language. They have coined some of the modern culinary terms in English; sometimes through the use of quite interesting analogies.
1. Caldron (Cauldron)
You know that Romans were addicted to their bathing habits, right? Ruins of public baths (thermae) could be found all over the lands where the Roman soldier’s boot set in. (For more on ancient Greek and Roman bathing habits read this post.)
Visiting the bathhouse was not a simple hygienic act but consisted of different SPA experiences, such as alternating hot and cold water pools, using steam bath and sauna, etc. One of the three principal rooms of the Roman baths was called caldarium - a warm place (from the Latin adjective "calidus" – “hot”). As it was build directly above the heating system (hypocaust), the floor of the caldarium was also hot, hence, turning the room into a pretty warm place where people literary “boiled.” The simmering ambiance in the caldarium was associated with those bubbling pots used for boiling liquids. The hot bath place gave the name of the caldron (cauldron) - large kettle, boiler. It even got a figurative meaning as something resembling a boiling cauldron in intensity or degree of agitation, as in the expression: “a cauldron of intense emotions.”
The hot bathroom caldarium, that resulted in naming caldron/cauldron in English, has given the French word "chaudière" – "boiler, a furnace." With the time, the term started to indicate not only the vessel but its containing too. Eventually, after some word changing, it turned into denoting a specific culinary dish called chowder. French fishermen firstly brought that kind of fish soup to the Canadian island Newfoundland. Today, chowder is a thick soup or stew made of seafood, or sometimes of salted pork. Corn and different vegetables could be added, and the soup is usually simmered in milk. Fish chowder, corn chowder, and clam chowder are most popular in New England and Atlantic Canada.
A calorie is a term coined in French from Latin in 1860’. It represents a unit of heat indicating the amount of energy produced in the human body by the consumed food. The word came from the Latin noun "calor, caloris" and meant “heat, fire,” but also “passion and zeal.” In the Roman literature "calor" often indicated hot weather, i.e. summer. Hence, the word group “mediis caloribus” in a text should not deceive us that the author was sharing a diet with an affordable number of calories. He has rather talked about something happening in the midst of summer.
Cereals are plants that produce edible grains. They have given the name of the probably most popular breakfast today– the cereals. The word derived from the Latin adjective "cerealis" – "pertaining to the goddess Ceres." She was one of the major Roman deities known as “Dii Consentes” – a Roman equivalent of the “Twelve Olympians” of the Greek mythology. Ceres presided over agriculture, grain crops, and fertility. Her name is related to the Proto-Indo-European root *ḱerh- meaning “to satiate, to feed.” The Latin verb "crescere" – “to grow” has the same root. It has given the words “create” and “increase” in modern English.
Ceres was used as a byword for food and bread as early as 1st century BC. Cicero mentioned that Romans called her name when meant the fruits of the earth, while called the name of Liber (equivalent with the Greek Dionysus) instead of saying wine. So, Terence was right in his comedy “The Eunuch” to say that: “sine Cerere et Libero friget Venus” - "without Ceres (food) and Liber (wine) Venus (love) freezes."
Different types of mustard, Courtesy of Wiki Commons & Fir0002
Remember that thick and pungent yellow, yellow-brownish sauce that is usually used as a condiment for meat and cheese? Do you know that it is prepared from the seeds of a plant related to the cabbage? In fact, there is something even stranger in the very word mustard. It came in English from the Old French “mostarde” (modern French “moutard”) from the Latin noun “mustus” – “new wine, must.” Romans (and not French!) pioneered the preparation of that condiment. According to ancient recipes, mustard was produced by ground mustard seeds (sinapis) mixed and stirred with new wine or must until a smooth paste is achieved.
The ready mixture could be seasoned with other spices and condiments, such as pepper, caraway, lovage, coriander seeds, dill, celery, thyme, oregano, onion, honey, vinegar, and even garum (fish sauce) and oil. The main taste of the Roman yellow-brown sauce could be guessed from the second part of the word mustard. Initially, the condiment was called “mustum ardens”- “hot must.” The Latin adjective “ardens” comes from the verb “ardere” – “to be on fire, to burn.”
It is likely that Romans introduced the mustard in Gaul in 1st century BC. Later, around the 10th century AD, the monks from Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris began their own production. By the 13th century, Dijon became a famous center for mustard making and won worldwide recognition as the capital of the mustard, still valid today.
Vinegar is a cooking ingredient the name of which originated from the Latin word for wine – “vinum”. Its etymology could be easily recognized as almost everyone knows that the sour wine turns into vinegar. Initially, the vinegar was called simply “vinum acre” – “sour wine.” With the time, the adjective “acer” (here in masculine) went through some changes and turned into “aigre.” Later, it transformed into “egre” and with that form it entered the Norman French denoting “sour.” The English adjective “eager” also developed from that word as a variant of “egre.” In the past, “eager” meant “sharp” and “sour” too. Now, it denotes someone who feels strong and impatient desire to do something. That sense is in accordance with one of the meanings of the Latin “acer.” Apart of “sour,” it meant “violent, vehement, passionate, and consuming” when states of mind were described.
As to the vinegar, the one known as “balsamic” or “of Modena” is considered the closest modern product to the ancient vinegar. It is produced from concentrated grape juice or must from white Trebbiano grapes.