Methods of curing meat have been developing all over the world for many hundreds of years, in order to preserve food for longer. Many delicious products were created through traditions of smoking, drying, salting, pickling. Efforts to preserve meat accelerated with the increase in Atlantic trade, as long naval voyages required food that would keep for a long time.
The industrial revolution and population increases also increased the desire for convenient, long-lasting, cheap food. While beef had been cured with salt for many years, these specific changes led to the emergence and popularity of corned beef as a product.
Ireland already had a tradition of salting beef and so as demand increased from the seventeenth century onwards, Irish companies began providing salt cured beef for trade with the British and the French. This product was used as a provision for naval voyages and also for civilian consumption in Britain and in the colonies.
The method of curing the beef was to mix large chunks of salt called ‘corns’ with the chopped beef in a large pot or jar. The word ‘corn’ derives from the old Germanic word ‘kurnam’, meaning seed, grain or kernel.
During the industrial revolution, corned beef began to be mass produced in cans, reaching its height during the Second World War. During this time, most of the corned beef consumed was imported from Fray Bentos in Uruguay.
Today corned beef and cabbage is considered a traditional Irish dish, enjoyed in the USA on St. Patrick’s Day. However in reality, this is an American tradition started by Irish immigrants to America in the nineteenth century.
In Ireland corned beef has never been that popular; although it was manufactured in Ireland, the cattle and means of production were owned by the British colonizers and most of the product was exported. Pork was much more popular for ordinary Irish people.