What Is Mincemeat Really?

The holidays bring to mind many desserts that are not, perhaps, actually that common in the US — think "figgy pudding," the dessert that's sung about in "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," or mincemeat pies, a British holiday pastry that's sent as a gift to Harry Potter by Mrs. Weasley at Christmastime (via Fandom). But those in the United States or outside of the UK might hear the words "mince," "meat," "pie," and "dessert" and start wondering — what exactly is mincemeat?

We started wondering this ourselves when a recent recipe post went in December 2019. An American food blog, eager to jump in on the holiday festivities, featured a recipe for a minced meat pie — that is, a pie made out of minced beef, apples, and custard (via Buzzfeed). Confusingly, in Britain ground meat is often called mince, and mincemeat pies are sometimes called mince pies, but it turns out that they often don't contain meat at all. The recipe was ridiculed, but many Americans were left scratching their heads. So what's really in mincemeat?

Does mincemeat contain real meat?

Mincemeat pie is a traditional British dish that's been served in the country for centuries, though it has morphed over time. After the Crusades, English cooks were introduced to new spices, and would combine them with meat, sugar, and dried fruits to make dishes that were impressive at the time, thanks to their use of rare and scarce ingredients (via Smithsonian).

It wasn't until Victorian times that people started making mincemeat pies without meat. Instead, they'd fill small tart shells with a blend of fruit, liquor (like brandy), and spices, sometimes adding nuts, much like the mincemeat pies we know today. In the 19th century, beef suet was often used to make the pastry for the pies, but now it's more often replaced with butter or shortening (via HuffPost), making the modern iteration of mincemeat truly meatless.

Though its origins are old-fashioned, these days mincemeat pies are still a very popular Christmas treat in the UK, with bakeries selling up to 40 million mincemeat pies during the holidays, and others making mincemeat pies from scratch. One thing's for sure though: If it's a truly meaty pie you're looking for, you're looking in the wrong place.