The great British culinary institution known as the sandwich was created in 1762 by the fourth Earl of Sandwich. Inspiration came from the need for a clean way of eating with only one hand during long gambling sessions.
Despite these somewhat dubious beginnings, the sarnie remains integral to the British way of life. Some 10.96 billion sandwiches are eaten in the UK every year. That’s almost 200 per person, which adds up to a lot of bread – about 35,300 tonnes, or 98 million loaves, per year.
Despite attempts from across the pond to import peanut butter and jelly creations, traditional British sarnie fillings reign supreme. Cheese and ham are favoured by home sandwich makers but, for ready-made, chicken tops the list. Some 24,924 tonnes of chicken are used in commercially bought sarnies each year. Second only to chicken is the mixed variety pack.
However, as consumers, we are getting more adventurous. Ready-made hoisin duck sandwiches are gaining popularity, according to research from the British Sandwich Association, while restaurants, cafés and shops are offering more elaborate concoctions by the minute. Apparently, critic AA Gill favours porchetta with fennel on ciabatta.
This year’s British Sandwich Designer of the Year Award certainly produced some innovative creations. Try the Indian Summer by Mark Arnold from Brambles Foods (mature Cheddar cheese with cumin cream cheese, mango chutney, tomatoes, mixed salad leaves and red onion on wholemeal bread), or the Greek Holiday by Laura Anthony from Greencore Sandwiches (a white pitta bread filled with lemon, garlic and rosemary-marinated chargrilled chicken pieces, yogurt and cucumber dressing, minted cabbage, sliced tomatoes and Mediterranean stuffing).
But, while the sandwich industry employs more than 320,000 people in the UK, the home market remains strongest: 57% of all sandwiches are made and eaten there. (National Sandwich Week runs from 14 to 20 May.)
- Carol Smillie, TV presenter: tuna and mayonnaise with salt and vinegar crisps
- Valerie Singleton, TV presenter: sliced hard-boiled egg and tomato on white bread
- Boris Johnson, shadow minister for higher education: cheese and pickle
- Helen Lederer, comedienne: cress, avocado, seeds and cherry tomatoes on brown bread with plum chutney.
By Alix Young