Every time we would go to the book store, we would see an entire section dedicated just for cooking-related books. We’d see hundreds of books lined up on the shelves with each cover more colorful than the previous one, seemingly begging for our attention. But did you know that the first—and oldest recorded—cookbook in history wasn’t at all whimsically designed as how we see it now?
That’s right, the oldest cookbook in the world was designed rather plainly—no fancy pictures or illustrations, no colorful text. Called De Re Coquinaria (sometimes referred to as De Re Culinaria), the cookbook is attributed to Apicius, a Roman who is believed to have loved luxury items and gourmet food. (Read: WATCH: Kokoy de Santos on Life, Acting, and His Passion for Cooking)
Apicius is said to have lived around the 1st century AD and would have used his wealth to eat good food during his life. According to some, Apicius threw a huge banquet when he found out he was down to his last few million sestertii (ancient Roman coins), and eventually poisoned himself.
World’s Oldest Cookbook
Apicius’s De Re Coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking” when translated, according to experts) is a compilation of over 500 recipes that Apicius himself wrote based on his dining experiences.
Many of the recipes used popular Indian spices, which were popular ingredients among the Romans, and were also used to avoid food spoilage. Another thing is that spices were a big deal back in the day, with explorers from the 14th and 15th centuries such as Christopher Columbus and Vasco De Gama eventually sailing around the world for these precious ingredients. (Read: Chef Closes Restaurant, Feeds Over 50,000 During Lockdown)
Ancient Roman Dining
Through the cookbook, we get a better glimpse of what the Romans’ diets were. It can be seen through De Re Coquinaria that meat played a huge role in ancient Roman cuisine and that even ‘inferior’ parts of animals were utilized and used for dishes. Even the vegetarians also had their fair share of good food, with Apicius writing that they would use cabbage and asparagus for some dishes.
De Re Coquinaria is still available to read up to this day, and you can check out this Latin digital copy from the Library of Congress. A physical copy of the Latin version is also available to order on Amazon. For a translated version, you may check this link.