Food has always played a significant role in our lives – from nourishing our bodies to providing a sense of community and comfort. Throughout history, ingredients, dishes, and even entire cuisines have come and gone, leaving us with a treasure trove of extinct foods. In this post, we’ll take a walk down memory lane and explore 10 extinct foods that once graced dinner tables around the world.
- Silphium Once used as a spice, medicine, and aphrodisiac in ancient Greece and Rome, silphium was so valuable that it was depicted on coins. Its extinction remains a mystery, with some suggesting over-harvesting as the cause.
- Salmagundi Popular in 17th-century England, Salmagundi was a salad consisting of various ingredients such as cooked meat, eggs, onions, and pickled herring. It eventually faded from popularity with the rise of new cuisines and food trends.
- Roman Garum This ancient Roman fish sauce was made from fermented fish guts and was a staple condiment in their cuisine. With the fall of the Roman Empire, garum fell out of use, replaced by other condiments like ketchup and soy sauce.
- Pemmican A highly nutritious food of the indigenous peoples of North America, pemmican was a mixture of dried meat, fat, and berries. The decline of the fur trade and the cultural assimilation of indigenous peoples contributed to its disappearance.
- Ortolan Bunting This small songbird was once a delicacy in France, where it was consumed whole after being fattened and drowned in Armagnac. The controversial dish was banned in 1999 due to animal welfare concerns and the bird’s declining population.
- Sassafras Tea Once a popular drink in the United States, sassafras tea was made from the root bark of the sassafras tree. It was banned by the FDA in 1960 due to its potentially carcinogenic compound, safrole.
- Passenger Pigeon Pie The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America. However, excessive hunting led to their extinction, and the last known passenger pigeon died in 1914. The pigeons were often used as a primary ingredient in pies.
- Mamo Bird Feathers The mamo was a small Hawaiian honeycreeper that was hunted to extinction for its vibrant yellow feathers, which were used in traditional Hawaiian featherwork. The last mamo was seen in 1898.
- Beluga Caviar Harvested from the critically endangered beluga sturgeon, beluga caviar was a prized delicacy. International trade in beluga caviar was banned in 2005 to protect the species from extinction.
- Maize Beer (Chicha) This ancient Incan beverage was made from fermented maize and was consumed during religious ceremonies and social gatherings. The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire led to the decline of chicha, as European alcoholic beverages became more popular.
The loss of these extinct foods reminds us of the ever-changing nature of human culture and our impact on the world around us. As we continue to discover new ingredients and create innovative dishes, let’s also cherish and preserve the culinary heritage that has shaped us.