Black pudding—that decadent slab of congealed pig's blood, marbled with fat, often found sliding around in its own grease or slathered in HP sauce, devoured in a clammy hungover fog alongside fried bread, beans, eggs, bacon, sausages, and too many cigarettes, as beads of sweat form on your fevered brow before the plate has even been cleared—has been labelled a "superfood."
Yes, a superfood. Y'know, like blueberries. Or kale.
But why? Can this cylindrical swine fest—this dark slurry, this pudding of pig, this swine gore—truly be as good for you as a fresh pomegranate or açai smoothie?
The quick answer is no, it can't. But we'll address that fully later.
First, let us consider the pudding. How does black pudding differ from the veritable plethora of other blood sausages made around the world? The Cajun boudin link, say, or the French boudin noir?
Cheap industrial black pudding tastes like hot meaty breath.
A mixture of pork fat, pig's blood, salt, oatmeal, and spices that's been stuffed into an intestinal casing, black pudding is gently boiled (a surprisingly difficult process, apparently—go too hard and the pudding will split dramatically) and then fried or grilled. The main difference between English black pudding and other blood sausages is the former's relatively high oatmeal content.
This gives it a mealy solidity often lacking in its European counterparts and a palpable, breakfast-y taste due to the grain. It can be a joy or abomination—there is very little middle ground. Cheap industrial black pudding tastes like hot meaty breath.
My first experience was good, though. As a part of the fabled "Olympic Breakfast" offered at Little Chef—that roadside temple of fried gastronomic stodge—black pudding played a vital role. Plated with sausage, eggs, beans, mushrooms, the obligatory watery half-tomato, and rack of toast, it glued the whole gluttonous feast together with meaty intent; a meal to be remorselessly demolished in haughty silence before hurtling back down the M4 with a case of the meat sweats.
Venture into mainland Europe, however, and the texture can be more troublesome. The worst blood sausage I've eaten was in Belgium. Comprising a burst slush puddle of warm faecal-scented blood surrounded by dainty boiled apple slices, it tasted foreboding and grim, like an unwashed fridge at the back of an abattoir.
But what about this superfood claim? In January, the Daily Mail reported that black pudding can justifiably be labelled a superfood, mainly due to the fact that it's low in carbohydrates and high in iron. Black pudding manufacturers the length and breadth of England surely rubbed their blood-splattered hands in glee.
Others are not so sure. MUNCHIES got in touch British Dietetic Association, where we caught up with Dr. Anna Williams:
"No. Black pudding is not a superfood," laughed Williams. "It simply cannot claim that title."
It tasted foreboding and grim, like an unwashed fridge at the back of an abattoir.
Williams did add, however, that black pudding is hardly devoid of nutrients. "Blood itself has various health benefits. It is high in iron, for example, but with black pudding we're talking about a processed meat product," she said. "In any case, the iron content differs depending on where and how it was made. Then there is the fat. Some black puddings might only contain one gram of fat per 100 grams of pudding. Others might contain nine—very high."
Indeed, the very term "superfood" is contentious. The NHS doesn't recognise it and there is no official definition of it. The EU has actively banned food manufacturers from putting health claims on packaging unless they are backed by scientific evidence.
"A recent advisory board on nutrition stated that we need to be cutting down on processed meats—and red meat in particular—because it is linked to cancers. In particular, bowel cancer," Williams continued.
"Black pudding is a processed food. And it's a sausage. Therefore, it is also very high in salt: 1.5 grams of salt per 60 grams, [and] up to 1.8 grams. All these factors need to be considered. The idea that black pudding is some kind of 'superfood' is just not true. Obviously, the manufacturers like to call it that because it helps them to sell, but they can't really claim that. It's a marketing ploy."
Although the health benefits of black pudding may be negligible, blood itself has been used as a nutritious ingredient for centuries.
Take the French peasant classic coq au vin—that beautiful dark stew comprising a tough old boiling cockerel, cooked for hours alongside lardons and rough red wine. If you're doing it the traditional way, the dish is finished with cockerel blood, added at the end for body and texture. In England, jugged hare hinges on a successful amalgamation of blood and Port, again added at the end. In Italy, meanwhile, blood features in various unlikely deserts such as sanguinaccio dolce, a dish involving an entire litre of pig's blood combined with almonds, chocolate and cinnamon, heated to the consistency of cream and then left to set.
Myriad other recipes make use of blood, but the Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania sustain themselves on a diet based nearly entirely around the stuff. After bleeding their cattle, the Maasai consume the blood either raw or in a milk-blood mixture. Studies going back to the 1930s show that the Maasai diet is extremely healthy, with heart disease almost unknown among the tribe. Some might find this strange, given that the American Dietary Association recommend consuming under 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day; the Maasai consume from 600 to 2,000 milligrams per day.
So there we have it. Eat black pudding because it's delicious. You want a real superfood? Go bleed a cow.