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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Sardi/Garmi literally cold/hot, refers to the Persian system (dating back at least to pre-medieval times and still current in Iran and Afghanistan) of classifying foods and human temperaments for the purpose of optimizing diet. This may be seen as a simplified version of the four humours, the system associated with the Greek writer galen. It certainly seems to have reached Persians through Arabic translations of Galen in the 9th century ad.

Although sardi/garmi does not match the system of the four humours in all particulars, it has shown greater powers of survival. This may be partly because it is less complicated. Jill Tilsley-Benham (1986b), whose lively essay on sardi/garmi is the best exposition of the subject in English, looked outside Iran to see how the same tradition, transmitted from Arabic sources, had faired elsewhere. She writes:

How then, has the humoral system fared in Arab lands? The only concrete evidence that I could find was in Iraq and Morocco—two countries whose antique cuisines closely identify with pre-Islamic Persia. Many Iraqis still talk of certain foods in terms of harr (Hot), and bared (Cold), but it is folk memory rather than serious practical application, that keeps the tradition alive. In Morocco, on the other hand, es-sxun (Hot) and el-berd (Cold), remain an integral part of daily life, and it was through Moorish-influenced Spanish and Portuguese physicians that humoral theory reached South America, where caliente/frio is still popular today. Spanish explorers are credited with having taken it to the Philippines as well, but it would seem more likely that Muslim missionaries, who converted the island people some three hundred years before, were those responsible.