The Roman Sweet Tooth
By Angela Nguyen
The concept of dessert emerged after the end of the Roman Republic and overall, Ancient Roman desserts were simple and had multiple varieties such as fruit mixtures and baked goods. Many types of fruits were available, but sugar and honey were not always accessible. Popular fruits included grapes, figs, dates, melons, berries, pomegranates, apples, and peaches, and it was popular to combine fruits with nuts. Baked goods such as honey cakes and fruit tarts were also enjoyed.
To try a few popular Ancient Roman sweets, I chose to recreate three recipes: rosatum (rose wine), libum (honey cheesecake), and dulcia domestica (homemade sweets). In making these items, I enjoyed the process of preparing a taste of what the Ancient Romans ate. Overall, the preparation process was enriching, and my dinner guests and I most definitely enjoyed the experience. I highly recommend these recipes and was very satisfied with the delightful results!
A plate of libum and dulcia domestica accompanied by a glass of fragrant rosatum.
ROSATUM – ROSE WINE
Delightful, flowery wine used to help one’s stomach digest and was even used as a laxative medicine in some cases as it was believed that wines combined with roses aided in bowel movements. The recipe comes from Apicius’ De Re Coquinaria (a collection of Ancient Roman recipes) translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling in Book 1, Ch. 3, Recipe #3.
- Wine (any type will work well)
- Roses (or violets for an alternative drink, violatium)
- Remove the individual rose petals from the roses and place into the cheesecloth.
- Pour the wine into a wide-mouth pitcher or large glass.
- Steep the rose petals in the wine for one week. After, replace the cheesecloth with new petals.
- Repeat step 3 after another week, steeping the wine for a total of 3 weeks.
- Strain the wine and add honey to sweeten it to taste. Serve and enjoy!
LIBUM – HONEY CHEESECAKE
Sweet cakes were offered for libations to household spirits. The recipe comes from Cato’s On Agriculture, which detailed simple recipes for farmers.
- 1 cup of flour
- 8 ounces of ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 6-8 bay leaves
- ½ cup of honey
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Beat the ricotta cheese until it is soft and creamy.
- Add the egg into the ricotta cheese and mix until well combined.
- Slowly sift the flour into the egg and cheese mixture until it forms a soft dough.
- Divide the dough and form circular buns.
- Place the buns on a greased baking tray with bay leaves underneath.
- Bake the libum for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
- Warm honey on a stovetop or in the microwave and drizzle heavily on the libum and enjoy!
DULCIA DOMESTICA – HOMEMADE SWEETS
These are little confections made of pitted dates stuffed with nuts and ground pepper, sprinkled with salt on the outside, and candied in honey. The recipe comes from Apicius’ De Re Coquinaria in Book 7, Ch. 8, Recipe #294.
- Nuts (the Ancient Romans ate a variety of nuts, including walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, chestnuts, and more, but I used walnuts for this recipe)
- Ground Pepper
- Remove the seeds from the dates.
- Cut an opening in the date to stuff the nuts in and gently crush the nuts if necessary.
- Stuff each date with a pinch or two of ground pepper.
- Sprinkle the date with a bit of salt.
- Warm honey on a stovetop or in the microwave. Cover and drizzle the honey on top of the dates. Enjoy!
Angela Nguyen (College ’25) is is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Classical Studies.