Why Sausages Are Called Bangers In The UK

Eaten as a savory comfort food at home or commonly enjoyed as traditional pub fare, there's a reason why bangers and mash is one of the United Kingdom's staple dishes. It's a tasty combination of pork or beef sausages laying on a pillowy bed of buttery mashed potatoes, which might sound pretty basic to palates that have never experienced it before. Although, the brown onion gravy is really where this dish shines, marrying all the flavors together with a taste that's distinctly tangy yet sweet. Depending on what region of the U.K. you're in, you'll find various types of sausages that are used in bangers and mash, such as black pudding, haggis, and Cumberland bangers, to name a few.

For such a widely beloved dish, we have to wonder why the sausages became known as "bangers" to begin with. The answer stems from how they were made during the First World War. Sausages were already being mass-produced throughout the 19th century, and the Victorians viewed these so-called "little bags of mystery" with suspicion. In Europe during WWI, that's exactly what they were. Soldiers and civilians alike would be hard-pressed to find meat in sufficient supply during wartime, so in an effort to stretch out what little meat they had, people stuffed sausages with all kinds of cheap fillers. When these makeshift meat sticks were cooked, the heat shrunk the casings, causing them to burst loudly, as if the soldiers needed another reason to feel jumpy. The term "bangers" was coined based on this phenomenon.

A common explosion-causing filler in WWI bangers was water

Besides adding discarded, questionable odds and ends into the sausage mix (even cerealĀ at times), bangers were typically filled with water in order to pack the sausage skin more fully. It comes as no surprise why they would crackle and pop loudly while being cooked in the trenches. When water is heated above its boiling point, it produces steam that has to escape somewhere. These days, to avoid such culinary violence, some butchers and chefs will poke holes in sausages before they are cooked to aerate the steam. However, Australian celebrity chef, Adrian Richardson, advises not to in his book "Meat: How to Choose, Cook and Eat It". He says that if you're about to cook up a cheaper brand of sausage, poking holes isn't necessary because you'll lose out on precious moisture and flavor.

Of course, after the war, fillers were no longer needed, so traditional pork and beef sausages were once again used for the bangers and mash recipe. The British slang stuck around and is still used when referring to the dish specifically, but "bangers" isn't commonly used in U.K. vernacular otherwise. Sausages are usually on the leaner side and seasoned with aromatic herbs like thyme, nutmeg, and mace. Eat them with creamy mashed potatoes and the caramelized sauce and you've got yourself a meal that's as hearty as it is delicious.