As haggis is known as the national dish of Scotland, it is often assumed that it is of Scottish origin. However, according to notable historians, there is a complete lack of evidence that can conclude the origins of haggis to any one place.
One of the first known written recipes was discovered to date back to 1430 in Lancashire, England. It was in a cookbook regarding a dish made with offal (the innards and entrails of an animal) and herbs called “hagese.” Also in 1430, another English cookbook made mention of “hags of a scheme.”
But the British can’t gloat just yet, for a food writer by the name of Alan Davidson was hot on the trail of a lead all the way to ancient Roman times. These archaic beginnings of haggis were first referred to in Homer’s Odyssey. It makes sense simply because in these ancient times (around the end of the eighth century BC), utilizing the least expensive portions of meats and innards was essential for avoiding waste.
So how did haggis come to be associated with Scotland? According to the late British celebrity chef, Clarissa Dickson Wright, haggis came from Scandinavia before Scotland had become a nation. She based this theory on an etymologist named Walter William Skeat who believed that the word hag comes from Old Norse haggy or even Old Icelandic loggia. In modern Scottish, hag means to strike with a sharpened weapon.
Etymology aside, Dickson Wright believed that haggis was created as a way to quickly cook and utilize the innards of an animal near the hunting site without having to lug cookware along. While other animal parts could easily be grilled over an open flame, it was impossible to do so for parts like the intestines, stomach, and lungs. Chopping these other parts up and stuffing them into the stomach and then boiling it in the animal’s hide kept these parts from being wasted and created this meaty pudding concoction now known as haggis.
Today, haggis is typically enjoyed as part of the Burns Super that takes place on or around January 25th in honor of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. During Burns’ lifetime, haggis was very common because it was a cheap yet filling dish. Now haggis is found in every supermarket in Scotland year round. It is even served in Scottish fast-food restaurants, often in the shape of a sausage and is then deep fried in batter. It’s served with chips and known as a “haggis supper.” Other creative uses for haggis have been found in Indian restaurants in Scotland (“haggis pacer”) or even atop pizza.
A savory pudding containing the heart, liver, and lungs of sheep is minced with onions, oatmeal, suet, spices, salt and stock, and then encased.
Sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs, and stomach (or sausage casing); onions, oatmeal, suet, and spices.