Haggis: How Bad Is It, Really?

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
February 27, 2014

This week, we’re taking a look at those international foods popularly thought of as “gross” and testing that theory. (Yay for us.) How bad are they…really?

Photo credit: Stockfood

Haggis: You think it’s gross because of how it looks. And because you’ve heard that it—whatever it may be—is encased and then cooked in the stomach of some four-legged animal. 

The latter part is mostly true; traditionally haggis is prepared in a stomach casing, but you’ll find it in sausage casings, too. And what is it? It’s a savory mush of sheep tidbits (heart, liver, lungs), minced onion, cubes of suet (sheep fat), and oatmeal that’s served alongside ”neeps and tatties,” mashed turnips and potatoes, and some kind of sauce. (The version we found in New York City came with a brown gravy, but this author has also seen it with a creamy white sauce, as prepared by the Whitehouse Restaurant in the Scottish highland village of Lochaline.) It’s also the national dish of Scotland.

And it’s delicious.

"How could anyone not like this?" questioned one of our editors. "It has a slightly bitter flavor, but much more pronounced is a smoky meatiness the carnivore in me loves. The texture is like a finely ground hamburger meat, but the flavor is so much more than that: deep, dark, almost musty (in a good way)."

Of course, haggis is a prepared dish, unlike our other How Bad Is It, Really? subjects, which means there’s more room for error. Did this cook over-salt it? Did that cook chop the suet too small? The goodness of the haggis is at the mercy of the person preparing it. So that must be kept in mind.

"I’ve never had the real deal, but this version was damn good," said another one of our tasters. "I’m feeling a bit under the weather, and this made me feel warm and toasty and sort of normal for three seconds."

By “real deal,” she was referring to the fact that, in the States, our haggis doesn’t contain lungs. In fact, it hasn’t since 1971, thanks—or no thanks—to the US Department of Agriculture. So alas, the Burns Nights of Scots living in America have paled in comparison to the ones of their youths. 

Even without the lung, though, we found it “intensely offal-y;” it has a nice “crackle of oatmeal” and was “pretty aromatic”—”sort of like ground meat plus extras.”

Haggis does not come close to being rated on the Gross Scale.