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Corned beef

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Corned beef
Cooked corned beef
Alternative namesSalt beef, bully beef (if canned)
Main ingredientsBeef, salt
VariationsAdding sugar and spices

Corned beef, bully beef, or salt beef in some Commonwealth countries, is salt-cured brisket of beef.[1] The term comes from the treatment of the meat with large-grained rock salt, also called "corns" of salt. Sometimes, sugar and spices are added to corned beef recipes. Corned beef is featured as an ingredient in many cuisines.

Most recipes include nitrates, which convert the natural myoglobin in beef to nitrosomyoglobin, giving it a pink color. Nitrates and nitrites reduce the risk of dangerous botulism during curing by inhibiting the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria spores,[2] but have been linked to increased cancer risk in mice.[3] Beef cured without nitrates or nitrites has a gray color, and is sometimes called "New England corned beef".[4]

Tinned corned beef, alongside salt pork and hardtack, was a standard ration for many militaries and navies from the 17th through the early 20th centuries, including World War I and World War II, during which fresh meat was rationed.[5] Corned beef remains popular worldwide as an ingredient in a variety of regional dishes and as a common part in modern field rations of various armed forces around the world.


Although the exact origin of corned beef is unknown, it most likely came about when people began preserving meat through salt-curing. Evidence of its legacy is apparent in numerous cultures, including ancient Europe and the Middle East.[6] The word corn derives from Old English and is used to describe any small, hard particles or grains.[7] In the case of corned beef, the word may refer to the coarse, granular salts used to cure the beef.[6] The word "corned" may also refer to the corns of potassium nitrate, also known as saltpeter, which were formerly used to preserve the meat.[8][9][10]

Pre-20th century[edit]

A 1898 illustration of tin of corned beef produced by Libby's
A corned beef sandwich served in a diner

Although the practise of curing beef existed across the globe since the period of classical antiquity, the industrial production of corned beef started in the British Isles during the British Agricultural Revolution. Corned beef sourced from cattle reared in Ireland and Scotland was used extensively for civilian and military consumption throughout the British Empire beginning from the 17th century onwards due to its non-perishable nature.[5] Irish and Scottish corned beef was also sold to the French West Indies, where it was used to feed both White settlers and Black slaves.[11] Industrial processes in the British Isles for producing corned beef during the 17th century did not distinguish different cuts of beef beyond the tough and undesirable parts of the cow such as the beef shank and neck.[11][12] Instead, the grading was done by sorting all cuts of beef by weight into "small beef", "cargo beef" and "best mess beef", with the first being considered the worst and the last the best.[11] "Small beef" and "cargo beef" cuts were most commonly traded to the French, while "best mess beef" were frequently intended for sale and consumption in markets throughout the British Empire.[11]

Ireland produced a significant portion of corned beef consumed in the British Empire during the early modern period, using cattle reared locally and salt imported from the Iberian Peninsula and southern France.[11] Irish port cities, such as Dublin, Belfast and Cork, became home to large-scale beef curing and packing industries, with Cork alone producing half of Ireland's annual beef exports in 1668.[12] Although the consumption of corned beef carried no significant negative connotations in Europe, in European colonies in the Americas it was frequently looked upon with disdain due to being primarily consumed by poor Whites and Black slaves.[11] American social theorist Jeremy Rifkin noted the sociopolitical effect of corned beef in the British Isles during the early modern period in his 1992 book Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture:

The British enclosure movement had displaced thousands of rural English families, creating a cheap new labour pool to fill the unskilled jobs in the industrial factories of London, Leeds, Manchester, and Bristol. Shortages of foodstuffs and rising prices were fueling discontent among the new working class and middle class of the cities, threatening open rebellion. British officials and entrepreneurs quieted the masses with Scottish and Irish beef. Historians of the period point out that were it not for the Celtic pasturelands of Scotland and Ireland, it might well have proved impossible to quell the growing unrest of the British working class during the critical decades of British industrial expansion.[13]

Despite being a major producer of corned beef, the majority of the Irish population during this period, Catholic tenant farmers, consumed relatively little meat in their diets. This was due to a variety of factors, including the high costs of buying meat in Ireland and the ownership of the majority of Irish farms by Protestant landlords, who marked most of the corned beef produced using their cattle for export. The level of meat, including corned beef, present in the Irish diet of the period decreased in areas away from major centres for corned beef production, such as Northern Ireland, while increasing in areas such as County Cork. The majority of meat consumed by working-class Irish Catholics consisted of cheap products such as salt pork, with bacon and cabbage quickly becoming one of the most common meals in Irish cuisine.[12]

20th century to present[edit]

Canned corned beef produced in Argentina for export to New Zealand, 1946

Corned beef became a less important commodity in the 19th century Atlantic world, due in part to the abolition of slavery.[11] Corned beef production and its canned form remained an important food source during the Second World War. Much of the canned corned beef came from Fray Bentos in Uruguay, with over 16 million cans exported in 1943.[12] Today significant amounts of the global canned corned beef supply comes from South America. Approximately 80% of the global canned corned beef supply originates in Brazil.[14]

Cultural associations[edit]

In North America, corned beef dishes are associated with traditional British and Irish cuisines.[15]

Mark Kurlansky, in his book Salt, states that the Irish produced a salted beef around the Middle Ages that was the "forerunner of what today is known as Irish corned beef" and in the 17th century, the English named the Irish salted beef "corned beef".[16]

Before the wave of 19th century Irish immigration to the United States, many of ethnic Irish immigrants did not consume corned beef dishes. The popularity of corned beef compared to back bacon among the Irish immigrant population may have been due to corned beef being considered a luxury product in their native land, while it was cheap and readily available in the United States.[12]

The Jewish population produced similar corned beef brisket, also smoking it into pastrami. Irish immigrants often purchased corned beef from Jewish butchers.[12][17]

Canned corned beef has long been one of the standard meals included in military field ration packs globally, due to its simplicity and instant preparation. One example is the American Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) pack. Astronaut John Young sneaked a contraband corned beef sandwich on board Gemini 3, hiding it in a pocket of his spacesuit.[18]


North America[edit]

Corned beef and cabbage

In the United States and Canada, corned beef is typically available in two forms: a cut of beef (usually brisket, but sometimes round or silverside) cured or pickled in a seasoned brine, or cooked and canned.

Corned beef is often purchased ready to eat in Jewish delicatessens. It is the key ingredient in the grilled Reuben sandwich, consisting of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island or Russian dressing on rye bread. Smoking corned beef, typically with a generally similar spice mix, produces smoked meat (or "smoked beef") such as pastrami or Montreal-style smoked meat.

Corned beef hashed with potatoes served with eggs is a common breakfast dish in the United States of America.

In both the United States and Canada, corned beef is sold in cans in minced form. It is also sold this way in Puerto Rico and Uruguay.


Multiple Caribbean nations have their own varied versions of canned corned beef as a dish, common in Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Barbados, and elsewhere.[19]

Newfoundland and Labrador[edit]

Corned beef is known specifically as "salt beef" in Newfoundland and Labrador, and is sold in buckets with brine to preserve the beef and is not seasoned with spices. It is a staple product culturally in Newfoundland and Labrador, providing a source of meat during their long winters. It is still commonly eaten in Newfoundland and Labrador, most often associated with the local Jiggs dinner meal. In recent years it has been used in different meals locally, such as a Jiggs dinner poutine dish.

Saint Patrick's Day[edit]

In the United States, consumption of corned beef is often associated with Saint Patrick's Day.[20] Corned beef is not an Irish national dish, and the connection with Saint Patrick's Day specifically originates as part of Irish-American culture, and is often part of their celebrations in North America.[21]

Corned beef was used as a substitute for bacon by Irish immigrants in the late 19th century.[22] Corned beef and cabbage is the Irish-American variant of the Irish dish of bacon and cabbage. A similar dish is the New England boiled dinner, consisting of corned beef, cabbage, and root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, and potatoes, which is popular in New England and another similar dish, Jiggs dinner, is popular in parts of Atlantic Canada.



Corned beef dinner, with potatoes and cabbage, Ireland

The appearance of corned beef in Irish cuisine dates to the 12th century in the poem Aislinge Meic Con Glinne or The Vision of MacConglinne.[23] Within the text, it is described as a delicacy a king uses to purge himself of the "demon of gluttony". Cattle, valued as a bartering tool, were only eaten when no longer able to provide milk or to work. The corned beef as described in this text was a rare and valued dish, given the value and position of cattle within the culture, as well as the expense of salt, and was unrelated to the corned beef eaten today.[24]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, "corned beef" refers to minced and canned salt beef. Unminced corned beef is referred to as salt beef.[citation needed]

Middle East[edit]


In Israel, a canned corned beef called Loof (לוף [he]) was the traditional field ration of the Israel Defense Forces until the product's discontinuation in 2011. The name Loof derives from "a colloquially corrupt short form of 'meatloaf.'"[25] Loof was developed by the IDF in the late 1940s as a kosher form of bully beef, while similar canned meats had earlier been an important component of relief packages sent to Europe and Palestine by Jewish organizations such as Hadassah.[25]



In Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga, colonialism by western powers brought with them something that would change Polynesian diets—canned goods, including the highly prized corned beef. Natural disasters brought in food aid from New Zealand, Australia, and the US, then world wars in the mid-20th century, foreign foods became a bigger part of daily diets while retaining ancestral foods like taro and coconuts.[26] Both wet salt-brined beef and canned corned beef are differentiated. In Samoa, brined povi masima (lit. "salted beef") or canned pīsupo (lit. "pea soup," general term for canned foods). In Tonga, corned (wet brine) masima or canned meats kapa are typical.

East Asia[edit]

Hong Kong[edit]

Corned beef has also become a common dish in Hong Kong cuisine, though it has been heavily adapted in style and preparation to fit local tastes. It is often served with other "Western" fusion cuisine at cha chaan teng and other cheap restaurants catering to locals. Like most localized "Western" food in East Asia, trade, imperialism, and war played roles in bringing and popularizing corned beef in Hong Kong.

Southeast Asia[edit]


Tortang carne norte, a corned beef omelet from the Philippines

Along with other canned meats, canned corned beef is a popular breakfast staple in the Philippines.[27][28] Corned beef is also known as carne norte (alternative spelling: karne norte) locally, literally translating to "northern meat" in Spanish; the term refers to Americans, whom Filipinos referred then as norteamericanos, just like the rest of Spain's colonies, where there is a differentiation between what is norteamericano (Canadian, American, Mexicano, what is centroamericano (Nicaraguense, Costarricense et al.), and what is sudamericano (Colombiano, Equatoriano, Paraguayo, et al.). The colonial mindset distinction then of what was norteamericano was countries north of the Viceroy's Road (Camino de Virreyes), the route used to transport goods from the Manila Galleon landing in the port of Acapulco overland for Havana via the port of Veracruz (and not the Rio Grande river in Texas today), thus centroamericano meant the other Spanish possessions south of Mexico City.

Filipino sopas (macaroni soup) with corned beef

Corned beef, especially the Libby's brand, first became popular during the American colonial period of the Philippines (1901–1941) among the wealthy as a luxury food; they were advertised serving the corned beef cold and straight-from-the-can on to a bed of rice, or as patties in between bread. During World War II (1942–1945), American soldiers brought for themselves, and airdropped from the skies the same corned beef; it was a life-or-death commodity since the Japanese Imperial Army forcibly controlled all food in an effort to subvert any resistance against them.

Carne norte guisado of the Philippines with potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, and tomatoes; it is eaten with white rice or bread.

After the war (1946 to present), corned beef gained far more popularity. It remains a staple in balikbayan boxes and on Filipino breakfast tables. The ordinary Filipino can afford them, and many brands have sprung up, including those manufactured by Century Pacific Food, CDO Foodsphere and San Miguel Food and Beverage, which are wholly owned by Filipinos and locally manufactured.[27][28]

Philippine corned beef is typically made from shredded beef or buffalo meat, and is almost exclusively sold in cans. It is boiled, shredded, canned, and sold in supermarkets and grocery stores for mass consumption. It is usually served as the breakfast combination called "corned beef silog", in which corned beef is cooked as carne norte guisado (fried, mixed with onions, garlic, and often, finely cubed potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and/or cabbage), with a side of sinangag (garlic fried rice), and a fried egg.[29][27][30] Another common way to eat corned beef is tortang carne norte (or corned beef omelet), in which corned beef is mixed with egg and fried.[31][32] Corned beef is also used as a cheap meat ingredient in dishes like sopas and sinigang.[33][34][35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Corned Beef". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved September 17, 2021.
  2. ^ US Dept of Agriculture. "Clostridium botulinum" (PDF). Retrieved December 13, 2016.
  3. ^ "Ingested Nitrates and Nitrites, and Cyanobacterial Peptide Toxins". NCBI.NLM.NIH.gov. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  4. ^ Ewbank, Mary (March 14, 2018). "The Mystery of New England's Gray Corned Beef". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Cook, Alexander (2004). "Sailing on The Ship: Re-enactment and the Quest for Popular History". History Workshop Journal. 57 (57): 247–255. doi:10.1093/hwj/57.1.247. hdl:1885/54218. JSTOR 25472737. S2CID 194110027.
  6. ^ a b McGee, Harold (2004). On Food and Cooking: The Science and lore of the Kitchen. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-80001-1.
  7. ^ "Corn, n.1". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2010. "A small hard particle, a grain, as of sand or salt."
  8. ^ Norris, James F. (1921). A Textbook of Inorganic Chemistry for Colleges. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 528. OCLC 2743191. Potassium nitrate is used in the manufacture of gunpowder ... It is also used in curing meats; it prevents putrefaction and produces the deep red color familiar in the case of salted hams and corned beef.
  9. ^ Theiss, Lewis Edwin (January 1911). "Every Day Foods That Injure Health". Pearson's Magazine. 25. New York: Pearson Pub. Co.: 249. you have probably noticed how nice and red corned beef is. That's because it has in it saltpeter, the same stuff that is used in making gunpowder.
  10. ^ Hessler, John C.; Smith, Albert L. (1902). Essentials of Chemistry. Boston: Benj. H. Sanborn & Co. p. 158. The chief use of potassium nitrate as a preservative is in the preparation of 'corned' beef.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Mandelblatt, Bertie (2007). "A Transatlantic Commodity: Irish Salt Beef in the French Atlantic World". History Workshop Journal. 63 (1): 18–47. doi:10.1093/hwj/dbm028. JSTOR 25472901. S2CID 140660191.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Mac Con Iomaire, Máirtín; Óg Gallagher, Pádraic (2011). "Irish Corned Beef: A Culinary History". Journal of Culinary Science and Technology. 9 (1): 27–43. doi:10.1080/15428052.2011.558464. S2CID 216138899.
  13. ^ Rifkin, Jeremy (March 1, 1993). Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture. Plume. pp. 56, 57. ISBN 978-0-452-26952-1.
  14. ^ Palmeiras, Rafael (September 9, 2011). "Carne enlatada brasileira representa 80% do consumo mundial". Brasil Econômico. Archived from the original on May 18, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  15. ^ "The History Behind All Your Favorite St. Patrick's Day Foods". February 27, 2019.
  16. ^ Kurlansky, Mark (2002). Salt: A World History. New York: Penguin. pp. 124–127. ISBN 978-0-14-200161-5.
  17. ^ Brown, Alton (2007). "Pickled Pink". Good Eats. 10 (18). Food network.
  18. ^ Fessenden, Marissa (March 25, 2015). "That Time an Astronaut Smuggled a Corned Beef Sandwich To Space". Smithsonian.com.
  19. ^ "Puerto Rican Canned Corned Beef Stew".
  20. ^ "Is corned beef and cabbage an Irish dish? No! Find out why..." European Cuisines. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  21. ^ Lam, Francis (March 17, 2010). "St. Patrick's Day controversy: Is corned beef and cabbage Irish?". Salon.com. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  22. ^ "St. Patrick's Day Traditions". history.com.
  23. ^ "Aislinge Meic Con Glinne". The University College Cork Ireland.
  24. ^ "Ireland: Why We Have No Corned Beef & Cabbage Recipes". European Cuisines.
  25. ^ a b Soclof, Adam (November 23, 2011). "As IDF bids adieu to Loof, a history of 'kosher Spam'". J.
  26. ^ Hillyer, Garrett (2022). "'Back to the Future' for Samoan Food". Back to the Future' for Samoan Food. doi:10.22215/fsmmm/hg21. ISBN 978-1-7780603-1-1. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  27. ^ a b c Makalintal, Bettina (January 4, 2019). "Palm Corned Beef is My Favorite Part of Filipino Breakfast". vice.com.
  28. ^ a b "Why corned beef isn't just for breakfast". cnnphilippines.com. January 26, 2018. Archived from the original on March 24, 2020. Retrieved March 24, 2020.
  29. ^ Manalo, Lalaine (August 14, 2021). "Ginisang Corned Beef". Kawaling Pinoy. Retrieved January 4, 2022.
  30. ^ "Corned Beef with Potato". Casa Baluarte Filipino Recipes. Retrieved January 4, 2022.
  31. ^ "Tortang Carne Norte Tortang Carne Norte". Overseas Pinoy Cooking. Retrieved January 4, 2022.
  32. ^ "Corned Beef Omelet". Panlasang Pinoy. February 9, 2020. Retrieved January 4, 2022.
  33. ^ "Sinigang na Corned Beef Recipe". What To Eat Philippines. September 12, 2021. Retrieved January 4, 2022.
  34. ^ "Sinigang na Corned Beef". Ang Sarap. August 4, 2014. Retrieved January 4, 2022.
  35. ^ Angeles, Mira. "Sopas with Corned Beef Recipe". Yummy.ph. Retrieved January 4, 2022.