Blood pudding, also sometimes known as “black pudding,” is a type of sausage made with animal blood. It is well known in many parts of the world in the context of a traditional Irish or Scottish breakfast, though there are many different variations. Most cultures have some version of blood sausage in their culinary heritage, though the ingredients, taste, and ultimate use can vary a lot from place to place. All that a sausage really needs to qualify is animal blood and some sort of grain, usually oats, wheat, or rice. Casings are common, but not required; dried fruits and other spices are also frequently included. A lot depends of the culture of the cook and what sorts of ingredients are readily available.
Despite its name, blood pudding is not really a true “pudding” at all. Most food scholars believe that it gets this name from the grains that are almost always included to absorb the blood that binds everything together, as in some sense cooks are making a thick pudding that solidifies and congeals within the sausage casing. People who are unfamiliar with the dish or not used to consuming animal blood often find this description somewhat off-putting, and the sausage can sometimes take some getting used to. Those who have grown up eating it or who live in cultures where it is commonly made often consider it a delicacy.
Nearly every culture that eats meat has at least one form of blood sausage within its repertoire of traditional recipes. In large part this owes to the industriousness of most butchers. Once meat has been divided into edible portions, there is usually a lot of blood leftover. Blood contains a lot of helpful minerals, particularly iron, and can be very nutritious; on its own, though, it is not usually very appetizing. Combining it with sausage fillings and cooking it into a meat-like mass of its own can be a very economical way of making use of it.
Popularity in the UK and Ireland
One very common use for blood pudding is as part of a traditional Irish or Scottish breakfast. A “traditional” breakfast usually includes the sausage along with beans, toast, mushroom, and some sort of cooked egg; grilled tomatoes and bacon or sliced ham are also usually on the plate.
Irish and Scottish blood sausage almost always centers on pig’s blood, and is usually encased in pig intestine, too. It usually includes oats as the primary binding grain, and raisins or currants are common additions. Many cooks will also incorporate spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to give the sausage a sweet flavor that complements many of the more savory elements of the breakfast plate. Cooks in England make something similar, though the spices and additions are often slightly more understated. Black sausage isn’t always part of an English breakfast, but it is often on pub menus or available as a snack in many restaurants and taverns.
Other European Variations
Most European countries have their own version of this sausage. Some, like the German Blutwurst or the Spanish morcilla, are decidedly savory and may be stuffed with other cured meats, onions, or potato as well as blood and grain. Others are intended to be sweet. Cooks in many of the Nordic countries add apples or sweet lingonberries to their sausage mixtures, for example, and the pudding is served alongside sweeter dishes like applesauce or fruit reductions in many places.
A lot depends on local custom and the sorts of ingredients that are readily available. The blood of almost any kind of animal can be used; livestock like sheep, goat, and cow are the most common, but duck and chicken can be used, too. Similarly, oats are the most common filler ingredient, but barley, rice, or corn are also found in some places.
Most of the blood sausages made by traditional Asian chefs do not have casings, which tends to make them slightly lumpier and more free-form than those that have been stuffed into animal intestines. Cooks in nearly every region, from the tropical climates of Southeast Asia to the frigid steppes of Northern China, have some sort of recipe for this dish. Most incorporate rice, but some are little more than blood and spices cooked into a solid mass. “Pig’s blood cake,” a type of blood pudding made with, not surprisingly, pig’s blood and rice, is a popular street food in Taiwan, and is usually served rolled in peanuts and served on a skewer; in Vietnam, the pudding goes by the name doi huyet and typically includes cilantro, green onions, and cumin alongside aromatic shrimp paste. It is common as a snack on its own or served on top of noodles.
Consumption in the Americas and Africa
In the United States and Canada, blood sausages tend to be the most popular in areas that have strong connections to immigrant groups. The European settlers who colonized much of the Midwestern United States and Eastern Canada left a legacy of German-like blutwurst, for instance, and Italian-style variations are common in many parts of New York. Cajun cooks in Louisiana often make their own rendition, playing on a recipe originally brought by French settlers but adapted to local ingredients and tastes.
Most of the sausages found in Central and South America are variations on the Spanish morcilla, usually incorporating local produce and livestock. Cooks in the Caribbean are known for spicy blood sausages that are often served fried up with local vegetables; sweet potatoes and plantains may also factor into the stuffing. People in most parts of Africa also eat blood pudding, though again with twists and tweaks based on what is available. The dish is generally very economical, and can act as something of a “catch all” for stray ingredients or foodstuffs.
Nutritional Information and Concerns
In general, blood pudding is a good source of iron, protein, and vitamin B12. Depending on how it has been prepared, though, it may not always qualify as a health food. When it is stuffed with animal fat or other meaty tissues, as is common, it may be very high in calories. Eating blood is not usually considered dangerous or harmful so long as it has been cooked completely; underdone or partially raw pudding might contain harmful bacteria that can cause illness, though.