Dar Anahita Presents
The Fragrant 13th Century Spice Box of al-Baghdadi
Curious, i decided to count all the spices, herbs, and other seasonings and flavorings used in the Kitab al-Tabikh written by al-Bahdadi and dating from the 13th century. I used the edition printed in Medieval Arab Cookery, translated into English by A.J. Arberry, with additional notes and updates by Charles Perry. This took some time, and i have a lacuna here and there. Nonetheless, here are the basics, as they currently stand.
I counted the seasonings in all the recipes in chapters 1 through 7. There were 112 recipes. I also counted the 37 recipes in chapters 8 (khabis), 9 (halwa), and 10 (qata'if and khusknânaj), but these are all sweets and thus heavy on saffron, rosewater, sugar, almonds, other nuts, and dates, so i didn't include them in the totals. Interestingly, cinnamon does NOT show up in the sweets, unlike modern American culture. Instead the sweets are flavored with rosewater, saffron, various nuts, and to a far lesser extent camphor, musk, and nard.
Almost half the spices are locally grown: coriander, cumin, sumac, nigella, mustard, caraway, anise, fennel are indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean. The herbs and allia (plants in the onion family, which includes garlic) are all local. There is limited production of mastic, which is the resin from a tree related to the pistachio. This particular species grows only in a very limited geographical region. Most, if not all, commercially sold today comes from the island of Chios in the Eastern Mediterranean. I don't know if saffron was locally grown - it came to Mesopotamia from Persia, so even if imported, it wouldn't be a long trip, unlike cinnamon and peppercorns, which came from or through India.
I was surprised that cloves and cardamom were so rarely used. At this time cloves grew only on one island in the Indonesian archipelago, which could explain its rarity. But various forms of cardamom grow in South and Southeast Asia, so it would seem that they wouldn't be harder to get than cinnamon.
|What I Counted|
|Sweetening Agents||Souring Agents|
|Nuts & Seeds||Other|
I also counted the spices in the 13th century Anonymous Maghribi and Andalusi Cookbook. It has a number of differences from the Baghdadi spicebox, as it includes basil and lavender flowers, and the proportions of spices differs.
|Coriander seeds||91||87%|| ||Coriandrum sativum L.|
|Cinnamon||87||78%||There are two kinds.|
See Note Below
|(1.) True or Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)|
(2.) cassia or Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia)
sometimes replaced with Cinnamomum burmannii (Indonesian cinnamon) or Cinnamomum loureirii (Vietnamese cinnamon)
|Cumin seeds||68||61%|| ||Cuminum cyminum|
|Gum Mastic||50||45%|| ||Pistacia lentiscus var. chia|
|Pepper corns||46||41%||black or white not specified, i assume black||Piper nigrum |
|Saffron||34||30%|| ||Crocus sativus|
|Ginger||23||21%|| ||Zingiber officinale|
|Sumac||11||10%|| (9.8%)||Rhus coriaria|
|"the usual seasonings"||11||10%||Based on the analysis here, i would assume them to be coriander, cinnamon, cumin, and pepper.|
|"seasonings"||9||8%|| || |
|atraf al-tib||8||7%||a complex spice blend for which there is a recipe, but without proportions, alas. This is the ingredient *mistranslated* by Arberry as "blattes de Byzance" which means "Byzantine cockroaches" or "perfumed nails" which could be "shell operculum" in the Cookbook written by al-Baghdadi. See Note Below for actual recipe.|
|Nigella||4||4%|| (3.6%)||Nigella sativa|
1. White Mustard: Sinapis alba / Brassica hirta (the seeds are actually yellow to light brown)
White mustard originated in the Mediterranean region, but various cultivars are grown in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe.
2. Black Mustard: Brassica nigra
Black mustard is endemic in the Southern Mediterranean region, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years.
3. Brown mustard:
a. Romanian Brown Mustard or Sarepta mustard (Brassica juncea) from Eastern Europe
b. Indian Brown Mustard (Brassica integrifolia or Brassica juncea, a fertile hybrid from Brassica nigra and Brassica campestris) from India and Central Asia
Which mustard would al-Baghdadi have used?
Andrew Dalby in Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices speaks only of White Mustard. According to him, it was known in Greece 4000 years ago and was taken to India and China, where it was planted, even though there were indigenous mustards in those regions.
According to Gernot Katzer's web site, of the three species, black, Romanian brown, and Indian brown, the last is probably most commonly sold in the West (in the late 20th and early 21st centuries). He goes on to say: "Although the pungency of black mustard is slightly stronger than that of brown mustard, black mustard is hardly planted in Europe anymore, and brown mustard is the dominating quality on the European market. The reason is that brown mustard, unlike black mustard, can be harvested by machines which make production much cheaper in countries where working force is expensive."
I am not sure, but it seems like it could have been 1, 2, or 3b.
|Caraway seeds||3||3%|| (2.7%)||Carum carvi|
|Cloves||2||2%|| (1.8%)||Syzyium aromaticum|
|Anise seeds||1||1%|| (0.89%)||Pimpinella anisum|
|Asafoetida, "leaves" of||1||1%||This may mean "flakes", since this is one form in which asafoetida gum is sold, or it may actually mean leaves of this plant.||Ferula assa-foetida|
|Edible Camphor||1||1%||Do NOT, under any circumstances, use chemical camphor. It is very toxic/poisonous!||Edible camphor is steam distilled from Dryobalanops aromatica or Cinnamomum camphora, Lauraceae, and can sometimes be found in South Asian shops.|
|Cardamom||1||1%|| ||Elettaria cardamomum|
|Musk||1||1%|| ||(an animal product)|
Order: Artiodactyla * Suborder: Ruminantia * Family: Moschidae
NOTE: Which kind of cinnamon was unclear. There are multiple kinds, most commonly, True or Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), which is made of thin quills, complexly layered, amazingly fragrant and wonderfully flavored, and cassia or Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia), which is what most Americans think is cinnamon, dark, thick, single layered quills with a simpler, coarser flavor. And there are two words for cinnamon in Arabic, dar sini, and qurfi/qirfa. In reading Arabic language and books about spices it seems that they get confused.|
NOTE: Atraf al-tib contains twelve ingredients. Which they are depends in part on the translator, in Medieval Arab Cookery, Maxime Rodinson (p. 132) or Charles Perry (p. 21), and in Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens by Nawal Nasrallah, pp. 643-644 (listed as afwâh al-tîb). Nine are the same, but they differ on the last three.|
- Betel leaves (not the nut) (Piper betle) (tanbûl)
- Green cardamom (hâl)
- Cloves (kibâsh qaranful)
- Ginger (zanjabîl)
- Long pepper (Piper longum) (dâr fulful)
- Black pepper (fulful)
- Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) (jauz al-tîb)
- Mace (Myristica fragrans) (bisbâsa)
- Bay laurel leaves (Laurus nobilis) (warq rand)
- Rose buds (zir ward)
- Spikenard (Bot.: Nardostachys jatamansi) (sunbul)
- (lisân al-‘asâfîr) - elm tree seeds (Nasrallah) - common ash (Perry) - on this ingredient i am not certain which.
I wondered if it might not be one of the many Zanthoxylum spp. Examples include, but are not limited to, Szechuan pepper, Japanese shansho, and North Sumatran andaliman. Varieties grow in India, Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, the Philipines, China, Korea, and Japan. The leaves are said to look rather like those of the ash tree.
Unfortunately, the one book that lists ingredients, the 'Abbasid Kitab Wusla ila al-Habib, gives no proportions.
Atraf al-tib seems to me to be something of an early analog of Moroccan Ras al-Hanout.
|mint || 26 || 23%|| fresh, or dried, or both||Mentha spicata|
|Cilantro/green coriander || 12 ||11%||(10.7)||Coriandrum sativum L.|
|Celery leaves || 8 || 7%|| ||Apium graveolens|
|Dill weed, fresh or dried || 8 || 7%|| ||Anethum graveolens|
|Thyme/ saatar/ zaatar, dried || 3 || 3%||Zaatar is generally an herb related to thyme and marjoram. However, it is not just one specific herb used consistently in all places. Rather, there are many different but related local variations. One is Origanum syriaca. I use a blend of thyme and marjoram.|
|Citron leaves || 1 || 1%|| ||Just from the Citron tree, or from some other citrus tree, or from any citrus tree?|
|Fennel stalks||1 || 1%|| ||Foeniculum vulgare|
|"aromatic herbs" || 4 || 4%||Which, i'm not sure. I would assume cilantro, at least, and one or two others...|
|Onions || 39 || 35%|| || |
|Garlic || 21 || 19%||(18.75)|| |
|Leeks || 6 || 5%|| || |
|Nabatean leeks || 3 || 3%||(2.7)|| |
|vegetable leeks || 2|| || || |
|Syrian leeks || 1|| || || |
I do not know the differences among the various kinds of leeks. A wide variety of leeks, onions, and other allia about which scholars are uncertain even shows up in the ancient clay cooking tablets found in Iraq dating to BCE (translated by Jean Bottero in Textes Culinaires Mesopotamiens published by Eisenbraun's).
|MURRI||12||11%||old murri was specified once|| |
Charles Perry brewed murri from scratch, starting with the moist barley "loaves" innoculated with the appropriate molds (somewhat like making cheese). He said it was like making koji, the basis for soy sauce, and in fact the finished murri tasted a lot like soy sauce. For some details, see the article MURRI in Stefan's Florilegium.
It has been suggested (by Master Adamantius, IIRC) that the kind of soy sauce made with more grain than soy beans might be a good substitute for barley-based murri. I wonder if diluted barley miso (another Japanese product) might also be a possibility.
| || |
|rosewater || 34|| || |
|rose petals || 1||Rosa damascena|| |
|NUTS & SEEDS|
|Almonds || 21|| ||Prunus dulcis|
|Walnuts || 13|| ||Juglans regia|
|Sesame seeds || 9||of which peeled = 3 and meal = 2||Sesamum indicum|
|Pistachios || 4|| ||Pistacia vera|
|Hazelnuts || 1|| ||Corylus avellana|
|Poppy seeds || 1|| ||Papaver somniferum|
|Hemp seeds || 1|| ||Cannabis sativa|
Note there are NO pine nuts in the savory recipes and there are NONE in the sweets chapters, either
|Sugar || 13|| of which scented sugar = 1|| |
|Honey || 4|| |
|Grape juice from sweet old grapes || 3|| |
|(sugar) Syrup || 3|| |
|Date juice || 1|| |
|Date honey || 1||possibly dibbs|| |
|TOTAL SWEET || 25||of which 52% sugar and 16% honey|| |
|Vinegar || 34||of which wine vinegar = 10; good vinegar = 6; distilled vinegar = 1; sour vinegar = 1
I don't know if it was made of red or white wine.
|Lemon juice || 18||Citrus limon|
|Sumac || 11|| of which sumac juice = 5||Rhus coriaria|
|Pomegranate || 6||of which sour pomegranate = 4||Punica granatum|
|Grape juice, sour || 4|| |
|Lemon, salted || 3|| |
|Orange, Seville or bitter || 2||Citrus sinensis|
|Apple juice, sour || 2||Malus spp.|
|Citron || 1||Citrus medica|
|Rhubarb || 1||Rheum rhabarbarum|
|Quince || 1|| ||Cydonia oblongata|
|TOTAL SOUR || 83||of which 41% vinegar - 22% lemon juice - 13% sumac|| |
Conclusion - The Basic Baghdadi Spice Box
Soooo, i suggest that the basic spice box needs the items used in 10% or more of the recipes in al-Baghdadi's cookbook:
- 9 parts - Coriander seeds
- 8 parts - Cinnamon
- 6 parts - Cumin
- 5 parts - Gum mastic
- 4 parts - Peppercorns
- 3 parts - Saffron
- 2 parts - Ginger
- 1 part - Sumac
- 1 part - Atraf al-Tib
Based on the analysis above, i would assume "the usual seasonings" would be coriander, cinnamon, cumin, and pepper, so i'd up the quantity of each by 1 part.
- 2 parts - Mint (or dried)
- 1 part - fresh Cilantro
a small bottle of Murri
Charles Perry brewed murri from scratch, starting with the "rotted" barley, and said it tasted a lot like soy sauce. So perhaps a light soy sauce or a liquid made from barley miso would be similar.
2 parts - Garlic
It should be fresh, but for camping, you could use dried or already pureed, if you prefer.
Other useful ingredients include:
- White Sugar
- Wine Vinegar (i prefer white wine vinegar, but red is ok where it negatively won't affect the color of the finished dish)
- Lemon Juice
Questions? Comments? Corrections?