From about 831 to 1091, the Islamic kingdom known as the Emirate of Sicily ruled over the island of Sicily, with the city of Palermo serving as a key cultural and political hub for the Muslim world. The consumption of pork is declared “haram” in Islam, which is stated explicitly in the Holy Qur’an.
While Sicily was under Islamic authority for nearly three centuries, some locals ate pork despite religious regulations prohibiting it, a newly published study found.
Food residue on 134 medieval cooking pots used between the 9th and 12th centuries AD was studied by an international team of experts, demonstrating that the medieval Sicilian diet was heavily influenced by where people lived and what food was available locally.
According to the research, titled “New insights into early medieval Islamic cuisine: Organic residue analysis of pottery from rural and urban Sicily” and published in PLOS, around 83 fragments came from Palermo and 51 from the Casale San Pietro site, which is located on the plain outside of Castronovo di Sicilia in the province of Palermo in the middle of Sicily.
“Analysis of residues preserved in pottery has, for the first time, revealed important insight into cuisine in medieval Islamic Sicily. We have identified a diverse range of products processed in cooking wares, as well as regional differences in the use of ceramics such as for the processing of dairy and grapevine products,” the research abstract said.
Interestingly, despite the fact that most of the residue recovered was from pork, the scientists found no evidence that the medieval Sicilians consumed marine or freshwater products, which are common among modern islanders.
According to the scientists, the blend of a broad array of food products is compatible with the colorful foods mentioned in Arabic literature, and the variations observed between rural and urban places indicate that there is still more to learn about how Sicilian society’s traditions differed.
“Furthermore, dishes often reflect a sweet and sour/salty palate, where fruits and fruit juices were added to savory meat dishes, for example citrus fruits (oranges and lemons), apples, pomegranates and grape products,” it added.