Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Mac Con Iomaire, M. and P. Gallagher (2011). Corned Beef: An Enigmatic Irish Dish. in Saberi, H. Smoked, Cured and Fermented: Proceedings from the 2010 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. Devon: Prospect Books.


Corned beef and cabbage, which is consumed in America in large quantities each Saint Patrick’s Day (17th March), is considered by most Americans to be the ultimate Irish dish. However, corned beef and cabbage is seldom eaten in modern day Ireland. It is widely reported that Irish immigrants replaced their beloved bacon and cabbage with corned beef and cabbage when they arrived in America, drawing on the corned beef supplied by their neighbouring Jewish butchers, but not all commentators believe this simplistic explanation . This paper will trace the origins and history of corned beef in Irish cuisine and chart how this dish came to represent Irish cuisine in America. The name corned beef originates in seventeenth century England, derived from corns – or small crystals – of salt used to salt or cure the meat. The paper will discuss the anomaly that although corned beef was not widely eaten in Ireland, it was widely exported, becoming one of Ireland’s leading food exports, mostly from the city of Cork. Irish corned beef provisioned the British navy fleets for over two centuries and was also shipped to the colonies. There is evidence of a strong trade in Irish corned beef as a staple for African slaves in the French West Indies and in other French colonies. Irish corned beef also became a staple in Pacific islands visited by the British navy, where it is called keg. These Pacific Islanders later corned their own beef, but sailors labelled it ‘salt junk.’