TORONTO — For the first time in nearly 50 years Scotland will start exporting haggis to Canada, but traditionalists may be disappointed as a key ingredient must be left out of the iconic dish to meet Canadian regulations: offal.
A traditional Scottish haggis is made with a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, along with oatmeal, suet and spices, often encased in the animal’s stomach. But Canada has an import ban on offal — which includes the entrails and internal organs of an animal — so Macsween of Edinburgh has developed an offal-less version to export.
That doesn’t sit well with Steve Allen, owner of Allen’s Scottish Butchers in Toronto.
“We’ve been making haggis over 40 years,” said Allen. “I don’t know how you could get the same sort of thing without the offal in there.”
It’s the lungs in particular that are essential to the proper preparation of a haggis, according to Allen.
“The lung actually makes the haggis fluffy and it gives it texture,” he said. “Heart is basically a muscle, and it’s basically tasteless but it’s lean. And then there’s liver. I’m sure you’ve had liver before but in our haggis only 10 lb. of liver goes into a 200 lb. finished product so you don’t taste the liver.”
For Dave Meli, head butcher for the Toronto-based Healthy Butcher chain, not using offal in haggis simply negates the philosophy behind the classic Scottish dish that ensures that all parts of the animal get used.
“I buy whole lambs every week and I’m one of the few butcher shops that deal with whole animals,” said Meli. “One of the byproducts of dealing with whole lambs is that bundle of offals, and let’s face it, people aren’t exactly buying up lamb offals left and right. But these things cost me $6 a pound. To throw them out every single week sucks.”
Meli, an avowed haggis fan who learned his craft from a Scottish butcher, says converting offals that would otherwise go into the trash into something beautiful is a no-brainer.
“I’m pretty confident that Scottish people in Scotland would tell you the same thing. It’s a way to make lamb offals awesome,” he said.
“Haggis has an unfortunate name. The best way to look at it is oatmeal pate. It’s outstanding, it’s velvety, it’s beautiful. But the name suggests you need to be tough as a Scotsman to try it.”
As far as imported offal-less haggis goes, Meli isn’t entirely convinced consumers would really know the difference. “With food engineering, you can do about anything these days,” he said.
Michael Cox, who owns Ottawa’s two Scottish and Irish Store locations, says haggis alternatives such as vegetarian haggis made with lentils already sell well at his stores, so he expects customers will likely embrace the opportunity to buy a different type of haggis directly from the motherland.
“It think the taste is more of the thing with haggis, then whether it’s authentic or not,” he said. “Basically, it’s a choice for our customers as to whether they really want the traditional method or not.”
Getting Scottish products like haggis into Canada is a big priority for the Scottish government.
It reports that its food and drink exports to Canada are now worth more than $154.3 billion, with the latest reports from Scottish companies suggesting that food exports have increased by 37 per cent over the last year.
“We sell huge amounts of Scottish, British and Irish food,” said Cox. “The fact that we’ll be able to get haggis in from Scotland is great. It’s one of those things we’ve never been able to do.”