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What Is a Traditional English Breakfast?

True breakfast lovers know all about the English breakfast. This ancient tradition, a smorgasbord of Britain’s best and most unique dishes, has been around for more than 600 years.

But such a massive meal can’t possibly be good for you. Right? And are people in England eating these gigantic breakfasts every morning?

We were curious, so we decided to find out.

Let’s dig in!

The History of the Traditional English Breakfast

The traditional English breakfast came about between the 14th and 15th centuries. It was popularized by the landed gentry, or wealthy landowners, of the time. These upper-class families saw themselves as the guardians of Anglo-Saxon traditions and culture. One such practice was serving a large breakfast before and after significant events like hunts, journeys, and parties.

Because the meal was intended to display wealth, families served dozens of different foods for the feast. The dishes served in earlier times would be mainly unrecognizable to modern eaters. They included regional foods like sheep’s tongues, broiled kidneys, and potted pigeons. However, some English breakfast standards, like blood sausages and fatback bacon, are still popular today.

The meal evolved further during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Breakfast was still a way to show wealth, but it also became an outlet for creative expression. The upper classes sourced high-quality ingredients and demanded refined recipes. During this time, the traditional English breakfast most people know began to take shape.

By the 1950s, even the working classes enjoyed big morning meals. The tradition had spread to the service industry. Today, travelers can find a standard English breakfast in almost any hotel or restaurant. These meals are also common in British homes.

Full English breakfast
Enjoy eggs, bacon, sausage, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, and baked beans with your full English breakfast.

What Is Included in a Traditional English Breakfast?

The traditional English breakfast also called a “fry-up,” is a large meal. In fact, it could probably serve not just one but two or three people!

Typical fry-ups include eggs, bacon, sausage, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, and baked beans. Most of these meals also have both fried and toasted bread. Black pudding, a British blood sausage, is another staple. And don’t forget bubble and squeak, a delicious English dish made from potatoes and cabbage.

The breakfast feasts come with drinks like coffee and tea. Sometimes, items like hash browns and baked beans might be included. Despite its name, people enjoy this meal any time of day. The main hard-and-fast rule for the English breakfast is that it should be big, bold, and filling.

In an interesting twist, some restaurants are reviving the English breakfasts of old. A few high-end eateries have started making older, more complex dishes from the 14th and 15th centuries. 

Pro Tip: Grab a quick bite to eat in the morning by finding out Which Fast Food Chain Has the Best Breakfast?

Is a Traditional English Breakfast Healthy?

Due to its size, you might assume that the English breakfast isn’t especially healthy. But research suggests that’s not actually true!

English breakfasts tend to be high in protein. By contrast, American morning meals are often heavy on carbohydrates and fruit sugars. The higher protein content can help some people feel full for longer periods. This makes the meal a surprisingly good option for those looking to lose weight.

Additionally, the typical foods in an English breakfast are nutritious. Lean cuts of bacon are good sources of protein and coenzyme Q10. Tomatoes are high in lycopene and can reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack.

Even sausage has some benefits. One serving contains nearly half your recommended daily niacin intake. And those who drink tea with their fry-up are reaping the benefits of their chosen blend.

Even less traditional items like baked beans are good for you. These legumes have folic acid, magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc. The next time someone questions the health benefits of this massive morning meal, show them the statistics!

Family eating full English breakfast
Fuel up for your day with a full English breakfast.

Is an English Breakfast the Same as an Irish Breakfast?

Despite its long history in England, the English breakfast doesn’t exist just within Great Britain. You can find many regional variations of this meal throughout the United Kingdom and neighboring countries.

The Irish partake in a similar meal called the “Ulster Fry.” This version usually features soda bread, a typical Irish bread made with baking soda instead of yeast. White pudding, similar to black pudding but made without blood, is another popular side, as are potato cakes.

The Scottish variation includes tattie scones, which are made with potatoes. They might also enjoy a slice of haggis, the traditional Scottish pudding made from sheep’s meat and vegetables.

Wales also has its own twist on the English tradition. The Welsh incorporate laverbread, a food made from local seaweed. And instead of black pudding, the traditional Cornish breakfast substitutes hog’s pudding. This pudding is spicier than most other versions and contains black pepper, garlic, cumin, and basil.

Pro Tip: Get your caffeine fix by discovering What Fast Food Chain Has the Best (and Worst) Coffee?

The traditional English breakfast has become somewhat legendary. However, it’s not the only morning meal the Brits enjoy. Like many other countries, England has its fair share of sweet breakfast breads.

Many folks in the United Kingdom, including the late Queen Elizabeth II, enjoy drop scones. These breakfast pastries pair well with fruit, honey, cream, or a combination. Like crumpets, which are also common, butteries go well with butter and marmalade. Eggy bread, Britain’s answer to French Toast, is probably the most decadent.

The English love savory dishes. Porridge is a standard among farmers and laborers who need a heavy meal to start the day. Kippers are another breakfast standard. They’re flavorful, highly nutritious, and go well with toast, eggs, and other foods.

Another breakfast food that’s unique to the British Isles is kedgeree. This dish came from the days of the British Raj and their colonization of India. Similar to an Indian meal called khichdi, kedgeree contains smoked fish, hard-boiled eggs, and rice made with spices like cilantro and fenugreek.

Traditions Old and New

Like any tradition, the English breakfast has a fascinating history. It’s come a long way from its roots in high society. Today it’s considered an everyman’s meal. Shifts in culture and the passage of time can change just about anything. But one thing is certain. This edible tradition will always be big, bold, and delicious.

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