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© Janet Ramsden/Flickr
© Janet Ramsden/Flickr

What Is Haggis? The History Behind The Scottish Delicacy

Picture of Tori Chalmers
Updated: 29 November 2016
Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is shrouded in folklore, mystery, and ambiguity. Although there exists a significant few who can’t even begin to fathom how it is edible, the Scots are notorious for adoring this delicacy and devouring it by the bucket load. Guts and judgements aside, this braw dish is continuously served and celebrated in its homeland.

It’s no lie that haggis is comprised of sheep intestines or pluck, with offal. To be precise, a sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs are mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet, salt, stock, and spices. Traditionally, these items are blended together inside the casing of a sheep’s stomach. Nowadays, sausage casing makes for a more palatable alternative. Despite preconceived notions, haggis is exceedingly flavoursome and incredibly appetising. Vegetarian haggis is also a popular alternative. The dish can be found on special occasions, Burn Suppers, high-end restaurants, pubs, and even chippy shops. Typically, it is served with neeps and tatties.

We all know that Haggis is irrevocably Scottish. However, many insist that it’s not completely covered in tartan. But, how could this dish come from another clan?

Surprisingly, there are no concrete facts to prove that haggis is wholly Scottish. Some argue that the delicacy stems from ancient times after a hunt, when easily perishable parts of an animal were cooked and eaten instantly. Others claim that its origins go as far back to the Ancient Romans or even before at around the eighth century BC, as a similar dish was alluded to in Book 20 of Homer’s Odyssey. Certain theories argue that it came straight off a ship from Scandinavia. Additionally, some may be shocked to learn that the first printed recipe of something remotely similar to haggis was in England in the early 1400s!

When it boils down to unearthing the true roots of haggis and its role in Scottish culture, folklore plays a significant role. For instance, words have been uttered about the old Scottish cattle drovers. Wives and daughters would prepare a packed lunch of sorts for their working men venturing to market, which would entail sheep innards wrapped in stomach casing. Other stories revolve around the idea that workmen back in the day would be given the discarded parts of the sheep after an honest day’s work.

Perhaps the most talked about and most amusing myth is that haggis is, in actual fact, an animal. The tale goes that this wee beastie dwells in the Highlands of Scotland, and with two legs longer than the others, runs in circles around the hills at great rates.

Scotland’s beloved poet Robert Burns is responsible for really putting haggis on the map. His poem Address To A Haggis was written in 1787 and pays homage to this Scottish delight: ‘ Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great Chieftan o’ the puddin’-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak yer place’. Essentially, he’s saying that haggis deserves recognition for being the chief of the meat clan!

Nowadays, Burns is quoted all year round, especially at Burns Suppers, which fall on (or near) the 25th January (his birthday). When the haggis is served, a skilled speaker dressed in full Scottish garbs, boldly and proudly recites Address To A Haggis before it is devoured by all. Although quite a spectacle, this tradition is still very much alive and thus deeply ingrained in Scottish culture.

The speculations, stories, and bold statements surrounding haggis could more than likely continue on for centuries. One undeniable truth is that it is (and always will be) an integral part of Scotland’s vibrant heritage. Not only that, it is utterly delectable. The proof is in the pudding…