Halloween food: Cooking with blood

31 October 2012 Last updated at 05:52

Halloween food: Cooking with blood

By Michelle Warwicker BBC Food Black pudding Many people eat black pudding, but not a lot else that is made from blood

Black pudding is the only food in traditional British cuisine to be made with pure animal blood. Is Halloween a time to embrace other ghoulish blood-based dishes?

Ever tasted ox-blood soup? How about starting the day with blood porridge or a blood pancake? Does chocolate and blood pudding appeal as dessert perhaps?

These sinister-sounding dishes are reminiscent of childhood horror stories.

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How to cook with black pudding:

Oven-roasted smoked haddock with black pudding

Black pudding is increasing in popularity in the UK, but that's almost as far as it goes in terms of blood-enriched foods.

Animal blood is actually eaten by many cultures around the world, but could the British diet benefit from a bit more blood?

"In northern Europe they have breads where they use blood. They make blood pancakes; they use blood in lots of different things," says Jennifer McLagan, the Canada-based Australian author of Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal.

For many, the thought of eating blood is inseparable from Eastern European myths of blood-sucking vampires feasting on animals and humans alike.

But for those who are brave enough to try it, blood brings a surprising "richness and a creaminess to the dish", says Ms McLagan.

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A taste for blood:

Maasai people pierce a cow, without killing it, to gather a vessel of blood

The Maasai people of East Africa drink fresh blood extracted from their cattle, which they mix with milk.

They pierce the loose skin of a cow's neck and gather the blood in a vessel, before healing the wound.

Blood soups are popular in many Asian countries: Vietnamese tiet canh is made with duck blood, and Haejangguk is a Korean soup made with ox blood, said to be a hangover cure.

In France, coq au vin is traditionally thickened with the rooster's blood, and French civet of hare can be flavoured with wine and blood from the hare.

In Asia, blood from pig, ox and duck is used to make soups; it can be added in fresh liquid form or made into congealed jelly to add texture and flavour.

In Finland dried-blood pancakes are a popular dish and in France blood is used as a thickener in the same way people in the UK might use eggs.

But Britons appear to be a little more squeamish.

Some will happily tuck into a slice of black pudding at breakfast. Others however, recoil at the sausage's main ingredient which gives it its distinctive taste and soft texture - pig's blood.

Black pudding is the only food in traditional British cuisine to be made with pure animal blood. Should the British be copying their European counterparts and eating more?

Chef and author of the cookbook series Nose to Tail Eating Fergus Henderson believes it is "common sense" and "common decency" to eat the whole animal - blood, trotters and all - once it has been "knocked on the head".

"It's good food and it's a shame not to eat it."

Mr Henderson employs this philosophy at his restaurant St John in London, which has seen offal, boiled pig's head, pig's ears and blood dishes appear on its menu.

One of his specialities is blood cake and fried eggs.

"[Customers] love it. They can't wait," he says.

Jennifer McLagan agrees that blood is a good source of food that is too often wasted in the UK and North America.

Pig's blood being poured into a mixing bowl Fancy fresh pig's blood in a chocolate pudding?

"If you're a thinking carnivore, you can't just be throwing away half the animal."

"Almost every culture" has a type of "blood pudding", (such as black pudding), because historically people didn't want to want to waste any edible parts of a slaughtered animal.

Some cultures do not eat blood because of religious reasons.

But Ms McLagan believes that for cultures where eating blood is accepted, "it's a really good source of protein that seems to be wasted in a world where we're always complaining there's not enough to eat".

In the UK today, iron deficiency among women is high, and increasingly common in young women in particular. So could eating more blood solve the problem?

Banh Canh with Pork Knuckle, Pork Blood Jelly, Prawn Cakes in Tomato and Crab Soup Pig's blood jelly is a popular addition to soup in Vietnam

Blood provides a "certain amount of nutrients" such as protein and iron, but "there's lots more nutrition in other foods" than can be gained "by actually drinking blood," says Helen Bond, spokesperson at the British Dietetic Association.

Black pudding is by far the easiest way to sample blood-based food in the UK.

An average (75g) portion of the dish would provide "almost over half the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for iron", says Ms Bond.

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Throwing a Halloween party?

Bloody Mary cocktail drink

But other ingredients in the pudding means that "quite a high portion of saturated fat" is present, which in high quantities can increase cholesterol levels in the body (one of the risk factors for heart disease and obesity).

"You've just got to take [black pudding] in the context of a balanced diet," explains Ms Bond.

"It certainly shouldn't be removed, but it's not something I'd encourage on a daily basis."

Despite black pudding polarising the opinion of meat-eaters, industry experts are reporting a surge in interest from butchers, customers and restaurants.

"Consumers are generally more adventurous these days," says Keith Fisher, master butcher and butchery development manager at British pork industry experts Bpex.

He credits independent retailers "who pride themselves on their black pudding" with bringing the food into prominence in recent years.

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What's in a portion of black pudding?

Per 75g slice

RDA* Women






How It's Made - Black Pudding - YouTube





BBC - Food - Black pudding recipes
Unsurprisingly, buying and cooking ready-prepared black puddings is much
easier than making your own. Ready-made puddings are already cooked, so
they ...

Saturated fat












*RDA = recommended daily allowance

Source: Helen Bond, British Dietetic Association, and NHS

While still strongly associated with the traditional fry-up, black pudding is "not just for breakfast anymore," says Donny Morrison, manager of Stornoway black pudding producer Charles MacLeod, based on the Isle of Lewis off Scotland.

"It's getting used for dinners, and starters in particular."

The exact method the company uses to make its black pudding is a trade secret, says Mr Morrison. But he does say it uses an old, traditional recipe with "dried blood from Holland, oatmeal, beef suet, onion and seasoning".

Still squeamish? People in the UK were not always so.

For centuries, inhabitants on the Isle of Lewis used to feed their families with a type of home-made black pudding or "marag dubh", made from sheep' s blood and intestines.

The intestines of the animal would be removed and cleaned in the sea before being softened and then used as the pudding's skin.

If you are hankering to add a bit more blood to your recipe repertoire, there is one thing to remember.

Make sure you don't add too much at a time, or its richness could leave you feeling a little queasy, warns Jennifer McLagan.

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Cooking with blood

Two Greedy Italians: Gennaro Contaldo makes chocolate pudding with pig's blood

And that's if you can get hold of it in the first place.

"It's not that easy [to find]," says Fergus Henderson.

"The problem with butchers is there's not that many butchers left that you can go to.

"But it's there somewhere."

Butchers are the recommended source for those looking for blood in its purer form. Not all sell it, but some will order it in especially for customers.

But for those who may be too afraid or squeamish to try food made with blood, master butcher Keith Fisher has some advice: "Black pudding is available in small pieces, so try a little first."


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