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What Is Murri?

Andy Josiah
Andy Josiah

Murri was a barley-based condiment most commonly associated with Arab cuisine during the Middle Ages. It was used as a kind of sauce or stew to complement a main dish, and it was occasionally used as a salt substitute. Murri is no longer a produced food item. It is also known as al-murri or almori.

Byzantium, or the Byzantine empire, is credited as being the site of murri’s origin. Some historians and culinary experts theorize that the stew probably arose from garum. It was a fermented fish-sauce condiment that the ancient Greeks created, but was passed to the Romans when they included Greece in their vast empire. It is possible that garum morphed into murri by the time the eastern part of the Roman empire transformed into a more distinctive political unit known in history as Byzantium, with the western half, or Western Roman Empire, ceasing to exist after 476.

Murri is made with fermented barley.
Murri is made with fermented barley.

As Byzantium encompassed much of the Arab world, murri became a popular condiment in that region by the 13th century. According to written records of the period, there were actually two recipes for the condiment, the more popular one being the barley-based version. This entailed wrapping fig leaves around raw barley dough and letting it sit under warm conditions in containers for a 40-day period. Then salt and water was added to the rotting, molded dough, and the mixture was left to sit another 40 days, resulting in a dark brown paste. According to some writers, people typically started production of the paste toward the end of March.

The less popular method of murri production was much faster. With the alternate recipe, a salted barley dough was baked to a considerable hardness, then reduced to crumbs and soaked in water for a day or two. Meanwhile, another mixture was made out of boiled water and several ingredients that include pine seed milk, raisins and several types of herbs and flowering plants. This mixture was added to the first one and boiled until it acquired a certain thickness. Murri made with milk was usually referred to as kamakh.

The Spaniard Jambobinus of Cremona, who lived in the Italian city of Venice in the 13th century, translated the murri recipe into Latin in his book Liber de Ferculis et Condimentis, or The Book of Dishes and Seasonings, for an European audience. Unfortunately, he bungled the translation, resulting in an omission of the rotting-barley phase of the sauce production. Consequently, Europeans who tried out the recipe got an inedible, salty substance instead of a thick, tasty sauce. As a result, murri never caught on in Europe, and by the end of 15th century, the condiment had even died out in the Arab world.

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    • Murri is made with fermented barley.
      By: Gordan Jankulov
      Murri is made with fermented barley.