Irish breakfast

From Academic Kids

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An Irish breakfast consisting of sausages, black and white pudding, bacon and fried eggs, served with orange juice.

The Irish breakfast is a cooked breakfast consisting mainly of pork products.


The contents

The traditional Irish breakfast includes at least the following fried items: pork sausages, bacon rashers, egg(s), black pudding and white pudding, accompanied by tea or coffee and usually toast or traditional brown soda bread (one of the more distinguishing features). Similar traditional breakfasts, often with the same ingredients, are served in other parts of the British Isles (see Full English breakfast). The serving of white pudding is also often found in the traditional breakfast meal in Scotland. Often, the bacon is grilled and not fried and less commonly the sausages can be too.

Although the items listed are the main criteria for a proper Irish breakfast, other items can be included. This may include hash browns (cakes of chopped and fried potato), cheeses and fried mushrooms or fried tomato - all of which may also feature in similar traditional breakfasts. Breakfast in Ireland may also be served with some non-traditional items such as baked beans. Bananas, grilled with the bacon, are becoming popular in the south of Ireland. They impart a sweeter flavour to the bacon rind.

Hotel and other fare

The term Irish breakfast is the only term used in Ireland for fried breakfasts (often with varying selections of the aforementioned ingredients). It is also used by the Irish abroad, or by traditional Irish pubs outside of Ireland, or by those hotels choosing to apply the term Irish to various fried breakfast items. Around the world, various types of fried breakfast may be alternatively described as English, a more common label in some quarters. In France for example, the phrase petit déjeuner anglais (English breakfast) is prevalent.

Many Irish hotels and B&Bs serve a fine Irish breakfast, as do many cafes and pubs. Hotel breakfasts tend to be more expensive and less inclined to 'experiment' with the ingredients than their cafe counterparts. Tourist class hotels often serve nothing but an Irish breakfast with varying degrees of quality. One of the most expensive places Irish Breakfasts are found is on the dining car of trains (see Iarnród Éireann).

Health effects

Because of its high content of meat, and consequently fat and cholesterol, the Irish Breakfast is considered by some dieticians to be unfit for very regular consumption.


The traditional cooked breakfast is a relatively modern invention. Before the arrival of the potato in the middle of the 17th Century, the Irish diet reflected the nature of the cattle based economy. Meat was mostly the preserve of the gentry whilst the poor made do with oats, barley, milk, milk products and offal. The practice of bleeding cattle and mixing the blood with milk and butter (much like the Masai of today) was not uncommon.

After the potato arrived in Ireland it quickly became the dominant source of food for the poor. From the late 17th century to until the late 19th century most people in Ireland lived on a meagre diet that consisted mostly of potatoes cultivated at a subsistence level. Potatoes were also used as a food for pigs that were fattened-up and slaughtered at the approach of the cold winter months. Much of the slaughtered pork would have been cured to provide ham and bacon that could be stored over the winter. In Ireland bacon is traditionally boiled and not cut into rashers and fried. The reliance on potatoes as a staple crop meant that the people of Ireland were vulnerable to poor potato harvests, consequently a number of what today might be called 'lesser famines' occurred throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The first great famine of 1739 was the result of extreme cold weather but the famine of the late 1840s (see Irish potato famine) which lasted several years led to the death of nearly 1,000,000 people and the emigration of another 2,000,000 was caused by potato blight. After the famine some 3,000,000 people were left destitute. Throughout this period most people would have eaten a simple breakfast of potatoes or porridge washed down with ale and later tea and would have had a more substantial dinner at around midday.

The traditional fried breakfast emerged in the houses of wealthy farmers or landowners in the late 19th century. For the more well-to-do, an array of breakfast dishes would be laid out buffet style in much the same way as hotels do today. Up until this period, fresh meat was generally considered a luxury except for the most affluent. Chickens were not cultivated on a large scale until the second half of the 19th century. The emergence of town grocers in the 1880s allowed people to exchange surplus eggs etc. and for the first time purchase other food items and diversify their diet. Only with the relative increase in the wealth of the general populace in the 20th century was the consumption of the meal commonplace amongst the working classes.


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A small Ulster fry

The traditional Ulster fry does not normally include puddings and soda bread, and so stands apart from the traditional Irish breakfast. However it should include fried potato farls (potato bread) and soda farls (flat bread leavened with baking soda not yeast) - grilled or sometimes fried. It is said to be a particularly good fry, often to be found south of the border and even further afield.

A breakfast roll is a French bread demi-baguette, filled with this kind of breakfast. The concept developed as a ready-to-go meal from convenience stores. It was spurred on by the innovation of in-store ovens being used to cook part-baked frozen French bread. In addition to standard breakfast ingredients, it usually includes ketchup, and sometimes spicy potato wedges or other random ingredients from the hot Éireannach


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