Where is Corned Beef Originally From? A Look at Its History

Corned beef holds a special place in many cultures’ cuisines today. But where did this salty, pink meat dish actually originate? The history of corned beef reveals some surprising facts about how it became popular around the world.

What is Corned Beef?

First, what exactly is corned beef? It refers to cuts of beef, usually brisket or round, that have been cured and preserved with large grained rock salt, also called “corns” of salt. This salt-curing process gives corned beef its distinctive pink color and salty flavor. Spices are also commonly added to create different regional corned beef styles.

The term comes from the “corns” of salt used historically to preserve meats. While curing meat with salt has existed for millennia, “corned beef” specifically has its roots in 17th century Europe.

Corned Beef’s Celtic Origins

Though today we associate corned beef with St. Patrick’s Day in America, its history stems from Irish and Scottish cuisines. Beef cattle were abundant in these Celtic regions, and salt was imported from coastal areas to preserve meat.

  • Ireland – Small farms raised cattle locally and used salt imported from France and Spain to produce corned beef. Irish cities like Cork and Dublin had large beef packing industries, exporting cured meats.

  • Scotland – Similar to Ireland, Scottish highland cattle provided corned beef exported to England and abroad. The Scots likely coined the English term “corned beef.”

So while the English consumed a lot of corned beef from Ireland and Scotland in the 17th-18th centuries, the product originated in these Celtic nations. The Irish eating mostly pork led to misconceptions that they never ate the beef they were exporting.

Corned Beef in the New World

European colonialism spread corned beef across the Atlantic as a cheap protein source:

  • British settlers brought Irish corned beef to North American colonies.

  • It was traded from Irish ports to the French West Indies to feed slaves and colonists.

  • Corned beef became an important ration for 18th and 19th century navies and militaries for its longevity.

  • After the Irish potato famine, Irish immigrants used corned beef brisket as a bacon substitute in America.

Global Spread and Modern Variations

  • Jewish immigrants in America drew Irish Americans to corned beef brisket, pastrami, and delis.

  • Canned corned beef fueled British imperial expansion as an edible and portable ration. Argentinian and Brazilian corned beef was also canned for export.

  • Today, Brazil is the largest exporter of canned corned beef globally, supplying around 80% of the world’s demand.

  • Each culture has adapted corned beef into regional dishes like New England boiled dinners, sandwiches, curries, hashes, and more.

Summary: A Global Meat Preserved in Time

While corned beef has Celtic origins and strong ties to Irish-American cooking, it has transcended boundaries as a preserved meat. What was once an English colonial commodity is now a cherished ingredient across many cultures. Though production methods have advanced beyond basic salting, corned beef remains a tasty method of curing inexpensive beef cuts to enjoy anywhere in the world. Its iconic pink color and salty savor continue to bring a unique flavor profile to a variety of global dishes.

What Exactly Is Corned Beef?


Where does corned beef come from?

corned beef, food made of beef brisket cured in salt. Related to the word kernel, a corn is a coarse grain of rock salt. In North America, corned beef is brisket, taken from the lower chest of a cow or steer, that has been brined in salt and spices.

What place did corned beef come from?

In fact, it wasn’t even the Irish who coined the term “Corned Beef;” it actually came from the British. In Ireland, cattle were too important to be raised for food. The working class, who make up most of the island, would use their cows for working the fields and producing milk and making other dairy products.

Is corned beef healthy?

Corned beef boasts several important micronutrients and is high in protein, which the body needs to build muscle, create enzymes, and repair tissue. However, it is also quite high in sodium and fat. This can be a drawback for those on a low-sodium or heart-healthy diet.

Why is corned beef pink?

Corned beef may still be pink in color after cooking. The pink color is from nitrites used in the curing process and tends to affect the meat color. This does not mean the meat is not done – check the internal temperature with a thermometer!

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