There are two kinds of murrī, the more usual kind made using fermented barley, with a less common version made from fish. Almost every substantial dish in medieval Arab cuisine used murrī in small quantities. It could be used as a substitute for salt or sumac, and has been compared to soy sauce by Rudolf Grewe, Charles Perry, and others.
Originally a Byzantine condiment, murrī made its way into medieval Arab cookbooks, likely due to exposure to Byzantine culture during the empire's rule over much of the Arab world. Charles Perry, an expert in medieval Arab cuisine, suggests that murrī arose from garum, a fish brine that was commonly used by the Greeks and Romans. As Arab lexicographers have noted that murrī is pronounced al-muri, with one "r", and suspect it is a word of non-Arab origin, Perry suggests that its etymology may be connected to the Greek halmuris, the source of the Latin salmuria, meaning "brine".
The recipe for murrī was misstranscribed with the fermenting stage omitted, in a 13th-century text Liber de Ferculis et Condimenti, where it was described as "salty water" elsewhere in the translation.
Traditionally, murrī production was undertaken annually in households at the end of March and continued over a period of 90 days. Barley-based murrī entails the wrapping of raw barley dough in fig leaves which are left to sit for 40 days. The dough is then ground and mixed with water, salt, and usually additional flour. It is then left to ferment for another 40 days in a warm place. The resulting dark mahoghany brown paste, mixed with water to form a liquid, is murrī.
A fast method for preparing murrī is to mix 2 parts barley flour to one part salt and make a loaf that is baked in the oven until hard and then pounded into crumbs to soak in water for a day and a night. This mixture, known as the first murri, is then strained and set aside. Then, raisins, carob, dill fennel, nigella, sesame, anis, mace, citron leaf, and pine seed milk are boiled with water and strained. The second murri is then added to the first, and boiled until thickened.
Murrī mixed with milk was known as kamakh.
- Jayyusi, 1992, p. 729.
- Davis et al., 1985, p. 3.
- Davidson et al., 2002, pp. 358-360.
- Perry, Charles (October 31, 2001), "The Soy Sauce That Wasn't", Los Angeles Times, retrieved 2009-03-21
- Newman CW, Newman RK (2006), "A Brief History of Barley Foods", Cereal Foods World 51 (1): 1–5, retrieved 2009-03-21
- Davidson, Alan; Saberi, Helen; McGee, Harold (2002), The Wilder Shores of Gastronomy: Twenty Years of the Best Food Writing from the Journal Petits Propos Culinaires (Illustrated ed.), Ten Speed Press, ISBN 1-58008-417-6, 9781580084178 Check
- Davis, Ralph Henry Carless; Mayr-Harting, Henry; Moore, Robert Ian (1985), Studies in medieval history presented to R.H.C. Davis (Illustrated ed.), Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 0-907628-68-0, 9780907628682 Check
- Jayyusi, Salma Khadra; Marín, Manuela (1992), The Legacy of Muslim Spain (2nd, illustrated ed.), BRILL, ISBN 90-04-09599-3, 9789004095991 Check
- David Martin Gitlitz, Linda Kay Davidson, A drizzle of honey: the lives and recipes of Spain's secret Jews, 1999. ISBN 0-312-19860-4. p. 20.