We know how you got here—you want to know how to make corned beef. And so you will. But how did corned beef get here? Who thought to cure thick cuts of beef in salt and nitrates, and declare them ‘corned’?
According to Mark Kurlansky, author of Salt: A World History, the Irish began salting, spicing, and curing beef in the Middle Ages, finding that this process preserved the meat from spoilage (and particularly from the danger of C. Botulinum, the toxin-producing bacterium best known for causing Botulism…and Botox). The Irish, most likely, originally referred to this product as spiced beef (as they still do today). But when the British seized control of the Emerald Isle, trampling its fields with cattle and its culture with Imperial force, they dubbed the preserved meat ‘corned.’ The word corn, back then, was not yet associated primarily with the American crop, instead referring broadly to grains or small pieces. In this case, the ‘corns’ were likely grains of salt, or granules of potassium nitrate, known as saltpeter (also the name of my future celebrity child).