The haggis is central to the traditional Burn's Night celebration: the spiced offal pudding is paraded in on a silver platter to the sound of bagpipes, before an honoured reader commences with a rendition of Burns's 'To a Haggis' and all present dig in. The event marks the birthday of the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns, and this year takes place on Saturday, January 25.
To cater for the growing number of vegans (an estimated seven per cent of the population, with 21 per cent of us now identifying as 'flexitarian' and a third actively trying to cut down on meat) there are now meat-free haggises on the market, which substitute the usual minced heart, liver and lungs for neeps and tatties, as well as a mix of beans, lentils, oats and seeds, to achieve that prized crumbly texture.
But not everyone is in favour of this break with tradition. Douglas Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Meat, had this response to the news that Tesco would be stocking a popular brand of vegetarian haggis last year: "Robert Burns enjoyed haggis so much that he stood up and competed a address to it. If you listen to this, he gives the impression that its going to give you power and strength. That is not the impression you get from the vegan haggis, and I think he would be scoffing at it."
But the meat-free delicacy has been around for longer than you might think. “We actually made the first vegetarian haggis in 1984,” says James Macsween, managing director of the famous Macsween butchers, which opened the first haggis factory in 1996.
“Since then it’s always been a solid contender, and nowadays makes up a quarter of our haggis sales.” He even serves it up at his own Burns Night celebration. “I’ll be having a bit of both, meaty and veggie. I’m a die-hard carnivore, but I can’t say no to a bit of our vegetarian haggis.”
Macsween vegetarian haggis (suitable for vegans)
There is a very satisfying (though perhaps not appetising) squirt of haggis as the skin is pierced – to those toasting the haggis: take care, consider eye protection. The texture is coarse and pleasingly seedy, with visible lumps of swede and carrot. Comfortingly stodgy, this smells appealing and is well seasoned.
Simon Howie (suitable for vegans)
A more solid haggis in structure, this slices easily and holds its shape. Though it contains satisfying chunks of kidney bean and oats, it's a little dry and slightly mealy in texture. The ingredients list reveals it contains palm oil and reconstituted vegetables.
Stahly Vegetarian Haggis (suitable for vegans)
This one comes in a tin and has a two-year shelf life. The smoothest of the selection, the haggis cuts like butter and has an aroma similar to a Walls sausage. Since vegetarian haggis cannot hope to recreate the meaty tang of offal, it has to build its appeal on texture – but Stahly’s is just like a smooth pâté.
Crombies of Edinburgh (NOT suitable for vegans)
If anyone knows about how a haggis should taste, it’s a Scottish butcher, right? Crombies has created a vegetarian alternative based on its traditional recipe – and a whopper of a haggis it is too, at over half a kilo. Sadly, this is where the charm ends: we found it claggy and bland, with little evidence of spicing.
Simple Simon’s Perfect Pies (suitable for vegans)
Vegetarian haggis, neeps and tatties pie, £4.95 for 250g from simplesimonspies.co.uk
As if we haven’t offended the Burns Night traditionalists enough, one company has taken its vegan haggis and put it in a pie – neeps and tatties included.
After 25 minutes in the oven the exterior is appetisingly golden and flaky – and impressive feat for vegan puff pastry. Slicing through the middle, a thick layer of vegetarian haggis is revealed, sitting on top of a slightly mean layer of neeps, and a more generous layer of mashed potato. The haggis is pleasantly crumbly yet moist, though lacking in the flavour of Macsweens. With a dollop of ketchup and a side of peas, however, it makes for quite a satisfying dinner.
Have you tried any of these veggie and vegan haggis options? How would you rate them? Are there any that you think should be on this list? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.
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