word of the week – haggis (ˈhagɪs).

It was Burns’ Night on Tuesday, so here are some musings on haggis.

South of the border we’re all a bit sceptical…we have a suspicion that these grungy-looking brown balls contain something vaguely intestinal. Perhaps they’re distantly related to a black pudding.

Or so we thought. In fact, haggis ignorance runs far deeper. A 2010 survey by takeaway service Just-Eat.co.uk revealed that 18% of Brits believe haggis is a small beast which roams the Highlands. Another 15% hazard that its a type of Scottish musical instrument, while 4% plump for a Harry Potter character. Some 800 of the 1,623 people interviewed were Scottish, and 14% of them had no idea what a haggis was either (oh the shame).

Above: A flavour to savour... if you’ve got the stomach for it

In fact, the venerated haggis is a concoction of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs minced with onions, oatmeal, suet and spices, all stuffed into a sheep stomach. As the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique puts it, “Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour”.

And it is utterly Scottish — unlike a few other national icons we could mention. I researched and wrote the following for the 2009 Royal Mail Year Book, and it appeared in a celebratory chapter on Burns (although the last sentence didn’t make the final edit):

THE REAL MCCOY? Theres nothing more Scottish than whisky, is there? Its called Scotch, after all. Actually, whisky was originally invented in China, and was distilled by 15th-century Irish monks before finding its way to Scotland some 100 years later.And get thiskilts, tartans and bagpipes may not be entirely Scottish either. Theres some evidence that kilts originated in Ireland. Tartan cloth was unearthed in Hallstatt, upper Austria, some of which date to 1200 BC, while 3000-year-old tartan-wearing mummies were found in a Chinese desert. Some historians believe the first bagpipes came from Sumaria.Recent genetic studies show that the mutation for red hair may have originated in Central Asia too.

click to download pdf.