Struthocamelus (Ostrich)


Wealthy Romans reveled in trying unusual dishes, and ostrich was an exotic import that was sometimes served.

Ostriches are well suited as livestock in low-water regions. Luis del Marmol Carvajal reported in the 1500s that the people of Numidia took flocks of young ostriches into the desert to fatten them. It’s likely the same was done in Roman times. Ostriches need about one fourth the water per pound of meat as cattle. They need only 4 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of meat, much better than the 10-to-1 ratio of grass-to-meat for cattle.

Unlike the meat from barnyard fowl like chicken and turkey, ostrich meat is similar to beef in color, texture, and taste. It’s lower in cholesterol, higher in iron, and 97% fat-free, none of which mattered to the Romans eagerly awaiting a scrumptious meal.

Unlike cattle, an ostrich emits no methane―also not a concern for Romans, who didn’t know about green-house gases.

Overall, the ostrich is an attractive source of red meat. In some countries, like South Africa, ostrich is readily available. No so in the US. Attempts to launch ostrich ranching were undertaken in the 1980s, but a significant market for the meat never developed. Still, ostrich meat is available in some parts of the US from specialty meat markets if you want to try the Roman recipes here. If ostrich isn’t available, beef can be substituted.

Elagabalus, emperor from AD 218 to 222, liked ostrich brains. Apicius does not include a recipe, so I leave it to your own imagination to figure out how they were prepared. If you create a delicious recipe, please share it with me, and I’ll post it here.

These ostrich recipes of Apicius are stews, so substitution of another red meat should be easy.

Boiled Ostrich (In Struthione Elixo)

Prepare a stock of pepper, mint, cumin, leeks, celery seed, dates, honey, vinegar, raisin wine, broth, and a little oil to cook the ostrich in .

Boil in a stock kettle with the ostrich meat.

Remove meat and thicken with roux.

Cut the ostrich meat into “convenient” pieces, sprinkle with pepper.

(Return meat to sauce and serve. This step is omitted in Apicius, but it seems obvious to me.)

If more seasoning is desired, add garlic.

Another Ostrich Stew (Aliter Struthione Elixo)

Prepare a stock with pepper, lovage, thyme, satury (I cannot find what this is, but maybe it’s a misspelling of savory?), honey, mustard, vinegar, broth, and oil.

Boil in a stock kettle with the ostrich meat.

Apicius. Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome. Edited and translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1977.

Soyer, Alexis. Food, Cookery, and Dining in Ancient Times: Alexis Soyer’s Pantropheon. Mineola NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2004.

Fact and Fiction by Carol Ashby