Food News

How Do You Feel About Haggis?

January 25, 2017

Boom boom. What’s that sound? Why, it’s haggis, the long-banned Scottish staple potentially stomping onto American shores.

Yeah, you heard me. The rich, salty Scottish pudding made from sheep innards has enjoyed a 45-year ban in the United States. That ban may be lifted as early as this year, CNN reported at the end of November. Amazing. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services recently proposed the introduction of a rule that'd finally allow the entry of sheep products into the States. These sketchy reports contain no exact promise of haggis' stateside return, but it's certainly been a long time coming. A good number of Americans haven't ever known the pleasures of this minced sheep offal mixed with spices, onion, oatmeal, drenched in stock and stuffed inside a sheep’s stomach pouch. I'm one of those people.

It’s been nearly three years since Margo Abbott wrote our Hotline with an observation: “I can't help but notice Food52 had no Haggis recipes :( .” Ugh, Margo—I know; Alton Brown’s got you. And to add insult to injury, it’s been just a bit over a year since our Books Editor, Ali, wrote, “I haven't had a lot of British and/or Scottish foods, like haggis, but I think I'm okay without it.” Unbelievable, Ali.

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I'm afraid she’s parroting what many Americans I know feel about this medieval-era food derived from an animal carcass. They tend to respond to the word “haggis” with guttural revulsion. Haggis: butt of the joke. Culinary punchline. Have you ever had haggis? I raised this query with members of the Food52 office, and of seven respondents who’d eaten some variant of haggis (the stateside recipes tinkered with to circumvent the ban), all but one seemed united in their determination to never eat it again. Most couldn’t describe its taste; they’d blocked it from their memories.

When did this food gain its sordid stateside reputation? It may help to look back at what got it banned in the first place. It’s been outlawed since 1971, when the Department of Agriculture imposed a ruling that livestock lungs couldn’t be deployed for human food. There was a suspicion that lungs may be contaminated, after all, with such fatal degenerative diseases as scrapie. In 1997, suspected links between human and cow forms of mad cow disease resulted in the ban of British lamb imports in the States.

It’s under this censorious pall that haggis has been due for a return. But the news of haggis’ potential return has barely made a dent in food media, perhaps because most Americans are predisposed to view haggis with suspicion and contempt. I can’t help but feel that this ban has resulted in something of an inverse of the Streisand effect: In its absence, haggis has acquired a reputation so pungent that some Americans have abandoned any pretense of ever eating it, resulting in disgust at what's considered a national delicacy in another part of the world. (Overturning this ban won't necessarily correct for this prejudice; consumers may still regard it with intense suspicion.) Now that it seems the ban may be lifted, it's come to the delight of some in Scotland; consider Macsween, a family firm that makes "haggis with passion," its recipe withstanding six decades. A representative from the company spoke to CNN and was quite excited about the product's potential crossover.

I am, too. I didn't really know what haggis was until last week—I know, I know—and now, I'd like to try it. Give me a haggis pakora; I'd eat a haggis burger before a veggie burger that bleeds. Perhaps, if it finally reaches the States, I will form an opinion.

This post originally ran on December 15, 2016. We're re-running it in observance of tonight's Burns Night, a Scottish holiday that falls on a night in late January each year. It honors the legacy of poet Robert Burns, and haggis factors prominently into Burns night celebrations. We'd recommend you eat it tonight—if you have access, at least.

Ever had haggis? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Caukie February 13, 2018
I tried Haggis and vegetarian haggis while on an extended stay in Scotland. I am not a fan of organ meats or sweet meats but thought I would give it a try to make a fair assement about it. I loved the vegetarian haggis with all the same spices as original haggis but I just could not get past the organ meat taste in the original. If you like liver, kidneys and the like, then, by all means, try haggis. If you are not inclined to the organ meats, like me, then give the vegetarian version a try. Keep in mind, not all haggis recipes are created equally, especially in Scotland. I found that everyone has their own version of it. You may have to taste several variations until you come upon one you like.
Christine's C. February 11, 2018
We recently made a trip to Edinburgh (highly recommend it) and tried haggis a few times. It was delicious! What we had at several pubs was a mixture of minced meat and offal in a tasty and heavily seasoned sauce that is both a little bit sweet (in a warming-spice kind of way) and slightly spicy (perhaps a touch of hot pepper). It was served with neeps ( mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes) almost like a deconstructed shepard's pie. What's not to love? We totally enjoyed it. (Disclaimer, we get a big kick out of trying things when traveling that we might not try or even find at home.) My takeway: Don't knock it till you try it.
Christine H. February 11, 2018
I ate Haggis for the second time in Reno, NV. at the Northern Nevada Society of Scottish Clans Annual Robert Burns Dinner. The Haggis was delicious. It is very rich, and just has the texture of ground meat. I hate liver but with the spices, oatmeal and lemon juice that the chef used in this recipe I did not notice the liver taste or texture.
Rachel February 6, 2017
I adore haggis. Whenever I'm visiting family in Scotland I eat as much as I can get my hands on! I particularly like it sliced and sauteed with breakfast. It has the most amazing savory flavor. The ultimate umami, in my opinion.
Tiffany January 31, 2017
Yes! As an American who moved to Scotland a few years ago, I was really excited to finally be able to try it. Macsween makes the best version I've tasted (a lot of local butchers will make their own) and it's very rich - not overly offal-y tasting, but definitely not your run-of-the-mill "meat flavor". Haggis is normally sold in a type of plastic wrapping that you remove before eating (and after cooking), but around Burns Night you can get it in sheep's stomach, which is traditional.
Lyndsay January 27, 2017
Vegetarian haggis is lovely - lentils, seeds etc with a similar flavour profile and none of the ick factor. I makes seriously good veggie chilli.
Nancy January 26, 2017
As the French say, in theory and in practice...
In theory, this is "nose to tail" eating when it was part of survival, not a retro movement. It represents economic use of materials and a community tradition. I should be all in favor.
In practice, it's far from my taste and custom. Or, I'm just not ready.
Stephanie B. January 25, 2017
I've never had haggis, but I've had a similar Romanian dish: ground or minced pork offal/organ meats seasoned with lots of onion, garlic, pepper, and paprika and stuffed into sausage casing - I've never liked it, no matter how much my parents and various family members tried to make me eat it.
Liz D. January 25, 2017
Tried it in Scotland a few years ago--very peppery, and the initial flavor was good, but it had a liver aftertaste that I didn't like; I don't like liver...The Stornaway black pudding was much better
Barney S. January 25, 2017
i recently traveled through the Carolinas and had a SC BBQ Hash. It reminded me a lot of haggis - most of the same ingredients.
NYNCtg January 25, 2017
My husband is from Scotland and I've had haggis there may times. I like it. I don't go out of my way to get it but I do enjoy it when it is presented. Every time we are there my husband gets a haggis supper at the chippy. battered and fried and sprinkled with salt and vinegar it is pretty good. My one sister-in-law thinks it is funny that i like it and gets me some version every time I visit. Haggis flavored potato chips last time. That was a bridge too far.
GsR December 7, 2016
What can you say about a food that requires you to drink whiskey to get it down?
Zensister December 7, 2016
Not for me. As curious as I am, I don't care for liver, and I just don't think there's enough onion and oats in the world to make it suitable for my palate. I hope it's everything you imagine it to be, though!
Peta December 6, 2016
I had it in Edinburgh this past March, delicious with neeps and tatties and a savory sauce. As part of a céilidh.
Frances Q. December 6, 2016
Sounds a little bit like scrapple to me although scrapple is not made using oats. I bet it's tasty.
Karla S. December 6, 2016
In the South we call it "liver and lites" Made with the pork liver and lung. With the ban of lung, the only time we get to eat it is when we slaughter are own hogs.
weekend A. December 6, 2016
Guess I'm in the minority at least on this thread -- I had it in Scotland and didn't like it. I was admittedly much younger, but I have no urge to try it again...ever. I remember cutting into it while it was still super hot and the filling kind of spilled out. It didn't set me up for success.
weekend A. December 7, 2016
I should also add that the version I was served included ground up esophagus in it, which I found particularly hard to reconcile.
Jan W. December 6, 2016
So - I'm super glad for haggis lovers, but I'm still waiting for APHIS to update or remove their restrictions for cured/dried pork and dairy products. There's virtually no chance that pork products can harbor any transmissible animal or zoonotic disease in 2016 - with the meat processing standards that are in force in practically all industrialized countries. With dairy products its unlikely that they could bring to the United States any disease that isn't already here.

If APHIS and CBP would focus on stopping diseases from plants (citrus greening anyone?), produce, and soil from foreign countries and leave the pork and cheese alone, that would be a much better use of their efforts.
Andrew M. December 6, 2016
You guys have black pudding, yeah? The spicing is generally similar, but it's richer and more savoury, with a better texture. Best intro is probably the same usage; fried for breakfast.

Alternatively if you want to go authentic, have a whole one battered and deep fried with a pile of chips and a can of Irn Bru. Rainy seaside optional.
Kathryn December 6, 2016
Haggis is lovely! The sheep's stomach is used to encase tasty, peppery minced meat - you don't eat the stomach. Think of it as being like the material used to hold a Christmas pudding whilst it boils. When in Scotland I had haggis (just the cooked meat!) served in filo pastry - yummy! Honestly, it's not even remotely scary - don't forget to drink a nice scotch with it.