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.
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.