The ancient Roman diet was based on vegetables, such as pulses, olives, and tarro. They also ate fruit, cheese, nuts and pulses. Vegetables in particular were heavily relied upon. They were used to supplement a basic meal of bread, cheese and olives, or ‘puls’, which was the most popular food among the Roman people. Vegetables were not eaten as a main meal as we might today, rather as a side dish for sustenance and flavour. But aside from bread and olives, which were staples of the Roman people, there were other vegetables which were important components of the Roman diet.
Carrots, Parsnips and Turnips
Carrots, parsnips and turnips were widely cultivated and eaten by the ancient Romans. These root vegetables were popular due to their nutrient-dense composition. Carrots were used to make a dish known as pinso, which was made of mashed carrots and served either fresh or preserved. Parsnips were also widely consumed in Roman times. They were often pickled and eaten with meals, as a side dish to provide additional flavour and nutrition. Turnips were also widely cultivated and eaten by the Romans. They were sometimes served as a side dish, but were also used to make a sweet treat, a honeyed turnip dish called “mulsum”.
Peas, Lentils and Fava Beans
Peas, lentils and fava beans were commonly consumed in Roman times. They were cultivated for their protein content, and as a means of providing variety to the diet. A breakfast dish of mashed fava beans seasoned with spices was a popular meal among poorer Roman households. Lentils were cooked and served as a stew, with vegetables and spices, while peas were usually simmered with garlic and herbs. These side dishes provided both sustenance and variety to the Roman diet.
Cucumbers and Eggplants
Cucumbers and eggplants were widely grown by the ancient Romans. These vegetables were usually cooked in either olive oil, or in a stew with other vegetables and spices. Eggplants were often roasted and served as a side dish, while cucumbers were served fresh in salads or cooked and served as an accompaniment to other dishes. They provided variety and nutrition to the Roman diet.
Mushrooms and Artichokes
Mushrooms and artichokes were also grown and consumed in Roman times. Mushrooms had a strong flavour and were served as a side dish or cooked and mixed into stews. Artichokes, on the other hand, were rarely eaten in large quantities, but were served as a side dish with other foods.
Apart from the vegetables listed above, there were also a variety of wild greens eaten by the Ancient Romans. These included wild lettuce, nettles, sorrel and dandelion. These wild greens were usually boiled and served as a side dish or cooked and mixed into stews. They provided a range of nutrition and intense flavour to the Roman diet.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices were also used to season the Roman diet. Herbs such as oregano, parsley, thyme, sage and mint were often used for seasoning, as were spices such as pepper, cumin, cinnamon and clove. These spices and herbs helped to add flavour, as well as being believed to have medicinal properties.
Roots and Tubers
In Roman times, a variety of root vegetables and tubers were commonly consumed. These included bulbs, such as garlic, onions, and shallots, as well as root vegetables such as carrots and turnips. Roots and tubers were usually boiled and served as part of a meal, or eaten raw in salads.
In addition to fresh vegetables, the ancient Romans also consumed a variety of fermented vegetables. Fermented fish, beans and other greens were often used as condiments, adding complexity to the Roman diet. Fermented vegetables also provided a source of probiotics, which aided in digestion.
Ultimately, the ancient Romans ate a variety of vegetables for sustenance, flavour, and variety. From pulses, olives, and tarro, to carrots, parsnips, and turnips, these vegetables provided an array of nutrition and flavour to the Roman diet. Herbs and spices also helped to season their meals, while fermented vegetables provided a source of probiotics. All in all, the Roman diet was based heavily on vegetables, and these provided an array of nutrition, flavour and sustenance to the Roman people.