Corned beef is a very old cured meat that’s present in so many recipes and sandwiches it’s really hard for someone to claim they’ve never had it, but does it have actual corn in it?
What’s also hard to claim is that you weren’t confused by it when you first heard about it.
Corned anything sounds like it should have actual corn in it, but when you actually look at the delicious meat you’re dumbfounded.
So this is what we’re going to clear up today.
Is there corn in corned beef ?
No, there is no actual corn in corned beef. The ‘corn’ in corned beef refers to the large grains (or corns) of salt used to cure meat.
This is an old name for salted beef, and the name stuck for hundreds of years. Although it may sound like there should be corn in it, the truth is that corn was never in corn beef at all.
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What ‘corn’ used to mean
So what does corn mean then, if it’s not actual corn. And what’s that about corns of salt ?
Well, it turns out it’s an Old English word for ‘grain’, though it doesn’t only mean grains like wheat or rice.
It referred to grains as in grains of salt, of pepper, or any large bit of spice. Over time it came to include what we now think of as grains, like wheat, oats, rice, corn and so on.
It no longer means ‘large grain of salt or spice’ but the name stuck.
Modern corned beef confuses folks, a lot
Despite being a very old meaning of corn, it’s still in use and pretty much anyone who first hears ‘corned beef’ immediately thinks of beef with corn in it, or as a side.
Why doesn’t the name change then, if it’s so confusing ? Well, it’s a very old name with a lot of history associated with it.
This kind of stuff doesn’t go away or change easily.
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Who invented corned beef ?
The exact person or nation that invented corned beef isn’t known.
And to be fair, since corned beef is just cured meat, it’s difficult to confidently claim just one person came up with it.
This method of preserving meat is ancient and has been in use all over Europe, especially in the Mediterranean area.
However the corned beef we all know today has been very popular with the English and those that came in contact with them.
As the British Empire became a force to be reckoned with, their culinary exports became common.
Corned beef, the slave trade, Ireland, and the love for beef
Corned beef has a very long and partly sad history, so we’ll try and be factual about it.
As discussed, corned beef is cured beef. Of all the Europeans out there, the British were the most fond of beef.
This led to them using the lush, rolling hills of Ireland as grazing grounds for cattle.
They apparently did this to such extent that Irish farmers weren’t able to use that lush, arable land for anything else.
This led them towards the edges of Ireland, where they resorted to growing potatoes that could easily grow in poor lands.
Later, when the Great Potato Famine hit, the Irish were devastated. Potatoes were their main source of food, since the beef they grew was much too expensive.
Despite all of this, Ireland was the major corned beef exporter in the entire world.
Cork (Western Ireland) was the main producer, and Irish corned beef was a lucrative business, all the way back in the 1600s.
There is another, darker side to corned beef though. Since this is a cured meat, it keeps very well.
This means that soldiers (as well as couriers and travelers) could have this meat on-hand and entire armies could be sustained with corned beef.
But it was also used by the British during the slave trade. It became associated with them, with slavery, and later on with poverty.
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Irish corned beef lost its monopoly
Once the American colony was set up, cattle was raised there as well, to satisfy the local British taste for beef.
This led to domestic corned beef production, and Irish corned beef lost a major part of the market.
Still, it remains associated with the Irish to this day. Although modern corned beef is different from old Irish corned beef, the essence is still there.
The main reason modern corned beef is different is because less salt is used, and brisket is preferred.
This is a tougher meat (and cheaper) but curing it will turn it into a very delicate cut of meat.
And that’s pretty much it about corned beef. There’s no actual corn, but there is plenty of salted, delicious beef. However corned beef is a very good meat that can be used in a lot of dishes but works great in sandwiches as well.
If you expect to eat corn when eating corned beef you will be disappointed but you can’t be disappointed with the meat itself if is done well.