Agriculture has been intertwined with the history of Ibiza and its inhabitants since humans first settled the island. Traditionally, land was valuable if it could be farmed. Throughout history, the island’s landscape has been shaped by the principle of land use, while construction elements such as dry-stone walls – a building technique recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage practice since 2018 – humanised valleys and mountains without causing damage.
The many traces of cultivation still found whenever the land is excavated are evidence of the importance agriculture has had since the first settlers.
Ibiza’s traditional settlements, scattered throughout the countryside, have ancient roots that lie in the island’s Punic past. Farmhouses were built scattered to control ownership, cultivation, work, and what was obtained from the land.
The practice of using everything that the land and sea provided gave rise to dishes that could be adapted to whatever was available at that time. An example of this is one of the stars of Ibizan cuisine, sofrit pagès, made with different types of meat and sausage – sobrasada, butifarra – patató (small potatoes) and vegetables.
Some dishes connect us with other regions, such as olla podrida (a kind of meat stew), coques (cakes), panades (empanadas), cocarrois (typical Ibizan empanadas), fried dishes and soups. Others have only been preserved in Ibiza.
For centuries, pastries for each season of the year have sweetened celebrations and rituals: flaó, a cheesecake mentioned in the work of Ramon Llull as far back as the 14th century, greixonera (a traditional dessert eaten during Carnival), orelletes (Spanish pastries popular in Catalonia and Valencia), ensaïmades (Mallorcan pastries made with lard), bunyols (fried dough fritters), menjar blanc (blancmange), macarrons de Sant Joan (St John’s Day macarons), and panellets pastries for All Saints’ Day.
The first document from the Historical Archive of Ibiza and Formentera (AHEiF) that mentions products from our cuisine dates from the 14th century. From the end of that century there is also a description of a dinner that took place after the salt distribution ceremony in Ses Salines, which consisted of bread, almonds, bacon, wine, veal, oranges, pears, apricots, figs, and more.
A letter from King Felipe IV dating back to 1639 mentions bescuit – bread baked twice to dry it out and make it last longer. From 1652 we have an inventory of the pantry of the parish priest of the Jesús convent: red wine, oil, bacon, green olives, black pudding, broad beans, peas, chickpeas and wheat. They also ate eggs, sausages and meatballs, chicken and poultry, rice, legumes, lettuce, sage, apples and pears. Olive oil was used – a roy- al adviser who arrived in Ibiza at the end of the 18th century wrote that the worst oil from Ibiza was better than any from Mallorca – along with vinegar. As well as water, wine and muscatel were drunk.
From the 18th century there is a ref- erence to a common preserve: codon- yat (quince paste). We find it in a story from 1766 about a six-year-old boy who lived in the old district of La Marina and carried a piece of taronjat – quince paste made with oranges – in his hand.
In the countryside, everything revolved around agriculture, work, and the seasons, from family life to social relationships. There were celebrations to mark the end of harvest, and typical dishes for specific occasions such as Nadal sauce – a Christmas dessert made from crushed almonds, meat broth and honey – or cuinat, made for Lent with simple products such as chard. Another custom was the gathering of herbs on St John’s Day to make a liquor that has today become one of the hallmarks of the Pityusic Islands.
Meanwhile, the seafood dishes made with that day’s catch have jumped from the tables of fishermen and sailors to those of the best restaurants, demonstrating the excellence of traditional Ibizan cuisine. This is how dishes such as bullit de peix and arròs a banda (rice with fish broth) have reached us today. On the other hand, lobster, now so highly prized, was once discarded as unappetizing. These are the curiosities of the rich gastronomic heritage that we have inherited and continue to preserve.