The Truth About Hackepeter, Germany's Traditional Raw Pork Dish

It's easy to think German meat is just the wurst. Maybe your brain brings up the uber-popular bratwurst, whose very name seems to drip German efficiency in that "Brat" is an Old High German term for "without waste," and the "wurst" ("sausage") part of that equation was traditionally made by piecing together meat scraps during bitter winters (via Bavarian Inn & Restaurant Lodge). Perhaps you thought of the iconic currywurst, a sausage so popular it has a condiment devoted to it. Or maybe one of the other 1,500-plus kinds of wurst that Taste Atlas says exist in Deutschland happened to come to mind. But there's another quintessentially German flesh-food you might not be familiar with, one so fundamentally meaty that one of its names is the origin of the word "meat."

Meet Hackepeter, a dish that consists of minced raw pork that's frequently eaten on rolls, per Deutsche Welle. "Hackepeter" is the popular way to refer to it in the German capital of Berlin. But in many parts of the country, it's called "Mett," which was the Old Low German term for food in general and the basis for the English word "meat." According to Taste Atlas, people commonly season Hackepeter with salt and pepper. On occasion, it may be flavored with nutmeg, marjoram, garlic, crushed caraway, or onions.

Hackepeter might sound like the least imaginative and most trichinosis-inducing way you could possibly eat pork. But there's much more to this meat than meets the eye.

The art of playing with Hackepeter

Many of us non-Germans might expect Germany to be the last place where people play with food or that food play has no place at all. As the BBC points out, a lot of people consider Germans humorless folk, partly because the rather exacting rules of their language make wordplay more difficult. But the joke's on us because Germans have played with Hackepeter in some creative and comical ways.

For instance, from the 1950s through the 1970s, it was quite common for partygoers to serve Hackepeter in the shape of a hedgehog, according to Deutsche Welle. This incredible, edible art was known is called a "Mettigel" ("Mett hedgehog"), and it's kind of adorable, sporting spines made of onions and olive eyeballs. More recent artistic takes not only play with food but with words. People have sculpted the meat into "Kermett" the frog, which prompted one clever Redditor to quip, "Dear god. It's Kermit the Frog. Made out of Miss Piggy." Others have crafted actor "Mett Damon" and made meaty tributes to the band "Mettallica."

You can find similar German expressions of creativity in the Facebook community, Museum of Modern Mett, AKA the Mett Museum. This clever play on "Met Museum" features all sorts of raw pork sculptures, including Teddy bears and Santa Claus.

What can happen when you have Hackepeter

There's a German saying - or a German singing in some cases – that goes, "Aus Hackepeter wird Kacke später." It's a comically unappetizing rhyme that translates to "Hackepeter becomes poop later." While that's technically true of any food, not every food entails chomping on chopped raw pork. It turns out, there are some health risks associated with that sort of thing, which that rhyme very succinctly captures.

A 2020 study published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection looked at sources of foodborne outbreaks in Germany. Based on phone surveys of 1,010 adults, researchers determined that among the "high-risk" items people consumed were raw pork products. The study specifically mentioned "'Mett' or 'Hackepeter,'" which is consumed at higher rates in the northern and eastern portions of the country. The dish heightens the risk of contracting Yersinia enterocolitica, which the CDC says results in often bloody diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain that may be mistaken for appendicitis. Hackepeter consumption also increases your risk of suffering from Salmonella Typhimurium, which also causes abdominal pain, fever, and – you guessed it – diarrhea.

A 2016 analysis found that mincemeat consumption was linked to German's largest Campylobacter coli outbreak (via the European Scientific Conference on Applied Infectious Disease Epidemiology). And by now, you've probably guessed what one of the symptoms is. So that Hackepeter saying might be a funny rhyme, but it's no joke.