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Scotland Haggis.jpg
Haggis displayed for sale
Type Pudding
Main ingredient(s) Sheep's heart, liver and lungs, and stomach (or sausage casing); onion, oatmeal, suet, spices
Haggis on a platter at a Burns supper
A serving of haggis, neeps, and tatties

Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal's stomach[1] though now often in an artificial casing instead. According to the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique: "Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour".[2]

It is believed that food similar to haggis (though not so named), perishable offal quickly cooked inside an animal's stomach, all conveniently available after a hunt, was eaten from ancient times.[3][4][5]

Although the name "hagws" or "hagese" was first used in England c. 1430, the dish came to be considered traditionally Scottish, even the national dish,[6] as a result of Scots poet Robert Burns' poem Address to a Haggis of 1787. Haggis is traditionally served with "neeps and tatties", boiled and mashed separately, and a dram (a glass of Scotch whisky), especially as the main course of a Burns supper.

History and etymology

Haggis is popularly assumed to be of Scottish origin,[1] but there is a lack of historical evidence that could conclusively attribute its origins to any one place. The first known written recipes for a dish of the name made with offal and herbs, are, as "hagese", in the verse cookbook Liber Cure Cocorum dating from around 1430 in Lancashire, North West England,[7] and, as "hagws of a schepe"[8] from an English cookbook also of c1430.

For hagese'.
Þe hert of schepe, þe nere þou take,
Þo bowel noght þou shalle forsake,
On þe turbilen made, and boyled wele,
Hacke alle togeder with gode persole,

The Scottish poem Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy, which is dated before 1520 (the generally accepted date prior to the death of William Dunbar, one of the composers), refers to 'haggeis'.[9]

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Thy fowll front had, and he that Bartilmo flaid;

The gallowis gaipis eftir thy graceles gruntill,

As thow wald for ane haggeis, hungry gled.
— William Dunbar, Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy

An early printed recipe for haggis appears in 1615 in “The English Huswife” by Gervase Markham. It contains a section entitled “Skill in Oate meale”.[10]

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The use and vertues of these two severall kinds of Oate-meales in maintaining the Family, they are so many (according to the many customes of many Nations) that it is almost impossible to recken all;” and then proceeds to give a description of “oat-meale mixed with blood, and the Liver of either Sheepe, Calfe or Swine, maketh that pudding which is called the Haggas or Haggus, of whose goodnesse it is in vaine to boast, because there is hardly to be found a man that doth not affect them

— Gervase Markham, The English Huswife

Food writer Alan Davidson suggests that the Ancient Romans were the first known to have made products of the haggis type.[3] Even earlier, a kind of primitive haggis is referred to in Homer's Odyssey, in book 20, (towards the end of the eighth century BC) when Odysseus is compared to "a man before a great blazing fire turning swiftly this way and that a stomach full of fat and blood, very eager to have it roasted quickly." Haggis was "born of necessity, as a way to utilize the least expensive cuts of meat and the innards as well."[4]

Clarissa Dickson Wright says that it "came to Scotland in a longship [i.e., from Scandinavia] even before Scotland was a single nation."[11] She cites etymologist Walter William Skeat as further suggestion of possible Scandinavian origins: Skeat claimed that the hag– element of the word is derived from the Old Norse haggw or the Old Icelandic hoggva[12] (höggva in modern Icelandic[13]), Modern Scots hag, meaning 'to hew' or strike with a sharp weapon, relating to the chopped-up contents of the dish.

Dickson Wright suggests that haggis was invented as a way of cooking quick-spoiling offal near the site of a hunt, without the need to carry along an additional cooking vessel. The liver and kidneys could be grilled directly over a fire, but this treatment was unsuitable for the stomach, intestines, or lungs. Chopping up the lungs and stuffing the stomach with them and whatever fillers might have been on hand, then boiling the assembly—probably in a vessel made from the animal's hide—was one way to make sure these parts were not wasted.[5]


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In the absence of hard facts as to haggis' origins, popular folklore has provided some notions. One is that the dish originates from the days of the old Scottish cattle drovers. When the men left the Highlands to drive their cattle to market in Edinburgh the women would prepare rations for them to eat during the long journey down through the glens. They used the ingredients that were most readily available in their homes and conveniently packaged them in a sheep's stomach allowing for easy transportation during the journey. Other speculations have been based on Scottish slaughtering practices. When a chieftain or laird required an animal to be slaughtered for meat (whether sheep or cattle) the workmen were allowed to keep the offal as their share.

A joke sometimes maintained is that a haggis is a small Scottish animal with longer legs on one side, so that it can run around the steep hills of the Scottish Highlands without falling over. According to one poll, 33% of American visitors to Scotland believed haggis to be an animal.[14]

Modern use

Recitation of the poem Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns is an important part of the Burns supper

Haggis is traditionally served as part of the Burns supper on or near January 25, the birthday of Scotland's national poet Robert Burns. Burns wrote the poem Address to a Haggis, which starts "Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!" In Burns's lifetime haggis was a common dish of the poor as it was nourishing yet very cheap, being made from leftover parts of sheep otherwise thrown away.

Haggis is widely available in supermarkets in Scotland all year, with cheaper brands normally packed in artificial casings, rather than stomachs. Sometimes haggis is sold in tins or a container which can be cooked in a microwave or conventional oven. Some commercial haggis is largely made from pig, rather than sheep, offal.[15] Kosher haggis, not only pork-free but fully conformant to Jewish dietary laws, is produced.[16]

Haggis is often served in Scottish fast-food establishments deep fried in batter. Together with chips, this comprises a "haggis supper". A "haggis burger" is a patty of fried haggis served on a bun. A "haggis pakora" is another deep fried variant, available in some Indian restaurants in Scotland. Haggis can be used as an ingredient in other dishes, even pizza, rather than the main part of a dish.[17][18][19]

A traditional haggis recipe describes haggis as "sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animals stomach and boiled". Ingredients are sheep stomach, heart and lungs of one lamb, onions, oatmeal, salt, pepper, stock, and water, with optional ingredients dried coriander, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It can be boiled, baked, or deep fried.[20]

Vegetarian haggis

Since the 1960s various Scottish shops and manufacturers have made what they call vegetarian haggis, substituting various pulses, nuts and vegetables for the meat. There are also recipes for home made vegetarian haggis. Oats and barley may be included as may different types of lentils, split peas, aduki beans, kidney beans, borlotti beans, peanuts, other nuts and mushrooms, onions and carrots.[21]


Scotch whisky is often said to be the traditional accompaniment for haggis, though this may simply be because both are traditionally served at a Burns supper.

Haggis company MacSween conducted a taste-test[22] which indicated that whisky is a proper accompaniment, and adds that lighter-bodied, tannic red wines, such as those made from the Barbera grape, are also suitable, as are strong, powerfully flavoured British ales.

Outside Scotland

Haggis platter at a Burns Supper in the U.S.
A fictitious Wild Haggis Haggis scoticus, next to a prepared specimen, as displayed at the Glasgow Kelvingrove Gallery

Haggis remains popular with expatriate Scots in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, owing to the strong influence of Scottish culture, especially for Burns Suppers. It can easily be made in any country, but is sometimes imported from Scotland. A recipe from the Canadian province of New Brunswick uses pork and bakes it in a loaf pan.

In 1971 it became illegal to import haggis into the US from the UK due to a ban on food containing sheep lung, which constitutes 10 to 15% of the traditional recipe.[23] The situation was further complicated in 1989 when all UK beef and lamb was banned from importation to the US due to a BSE crisis.[23] In 2010 a spokeswoman for the US Department of Agriculture stated that they were reviewing the ban on beef and lamb products, but that the ban on food containing sheep lung would remain in force.[23]

As haggis cannot be exported to the United States, it is instead made there, sometimes by Scottish companies. One such uses what is stated to be the same 150-year-old recipe and ingredients as in Scotland, except that sheep lung is not used, and the casing is always artificial.[24]


Haggis is used in a sport called haggis hurling, which involves throwing a haggis as far as possible. The world record for haggis hurling was achieved by Lorne Coltart on 11 June 2011, who hurled his haggis 217 ft (66 m). This throw surpassed the longstanding previous record of 180 ft 10 in (55.12 m), held by Alan Pettigrew since 1984.[25][26]

On October 8, 2008, competitive eater Eric "Steakbellie" Livingston set a world record by consuming 3 lb (1.4 kg) of haggis in 8 minutes on WMMR radio in Philadelphia.[27]

Following his victory in The Masters golf tournament in 1988, Scottish golfer Sandy Lyle served haggis at the annual Champions Dinner before the 1989 Masters.[28]

During the Korean War, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders received 180 pounds (82 kg) of haggis from the No. 30 Transport Unit RAAF during "Operation Haggis."[29]

See also

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  1. 1.0 1.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) First recorded as "hagws" "Now considered specially Scottish, but a popular dish in [early] English cookery"
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  3. 3.0 3.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Andrew Zimmern
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  6. www.sotland.org "Scotland's national dish, haggis"
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  12. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, 1996. Retrieved on 29 June 2009
  13. An Icelandic-English Dictionary, Page 309, Richard Cleasby, Guðbrandur Vigfússon, George Webbe Dasent - 1874
  14. "American tourists believe Haggis is an animal", guardian.co.uk, 2003-11-27.
  15. A commercially available "traditional ball haggis" in a natural casing with pork and lamb parts, and beef suet
  16. The Jewish Chronicle: Kosher haggis
  17. Herald Scotland: Braised Beef Cheeks with Haggis Crumble. An example of the use of haggis as an ingredient
  18. 23 haggis recipes
  19. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  20. Oban and Argyll Web site:Traditional Haggis Recipe
  21. The Guardian (London) 22.01.2015 How to cook the perfect vegetarian haggis
  22. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  24. McKean's US FAQ
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  28. The Course. The Official Site of the Masters Tournament. Retrieved on 2007-01-08.
  29. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

External links