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A Culinary Journey through the History of Welsh Snacks

Hi there! It’s been a while since we took you on that Jones o Gymru tour of Wales - and beyond (check it out here if you missed it)

This time, we’ve parked the bus, found a nice comfy chair with a panad (cup of tea) in a dark, quiet corner at Jones HQ and started to reflect on how we ever get involved with snacks in the first place?

So, just like we do with our potatoes…we did a bit of digging in an effort to understand how and when snacking became such a huge part of our lives and how the evolution of Welsh cuisine got us to where we are today!

Welsh Culinary History

To understand how snacking developed in Wales, we first have to take a little dive into the history of Welsh cuisine. Unfortunately, unlike some countries, it’s not full of the romantic or inventive culinary masterpieces that we might’ve hoped for!

Instead, Welsh cuisine is that of the humble working-man. For a long time living in Wales was tough work and you could only get by as a fisherman, farmer, labourer or miner and these long, manual shifts didn’t help nurture time for investing in advanced culinary techniques.

In addition, the traditional Welsh folk were isolated from their neighbours – both directly in England, and by the sea from the rest of Europe and Ireland. This meant that was a dearth in the number of available ingredients ready to be integrated into local recipes.

Therefore, this resulted in ‘simple’ dishes accompanied by a heavy dose of local produce; lamb, beef, local fish and shellfish, cabbages, leeks and – after its full introduction sometime in the 18th century, the potato.

Which leads us onto the makeup of those early Welsh staple foods:

Traditional Welsh Dishes

There are six commonly listed traditional dishes whose invention is credited to the historic people of Wales, these are: Cawl, Laverbread, Welsh Cakes, Welsh Rarebit, Bara Brith and Glamorgan Sausage.

Having six culinary creations credited to a country the size of Wales is no mean feat, but you could be excused for being misled if this was the first time you came across these dishes. For example; Laverbread contains no bread, Welsh Rarebit has nothing to do with rabbits and a Glamorgan Sausage contains no meat.

In fact, there’s a commonly held theory behind the naming of ‘rarebit’ that it actually originates from an English joke about the Welsh…

Is Welsh Rarebit an English Joke?

When we talk about ‘rarebit’ we refer to the ancient Welsh toasted cheese dish of ‘caws pobi’ – and it may have been best to keep it that way. The word ‘rarebit’ is, as you may have thought, a mispronunciation of the word ‘rabbit’ – but why is it used?

Although the famous dish evidently has no close connection to the rabbit, either as an ingredient, in its appearance or its characteristics - it may actually originate from an old English joke that referred to anything being ‘Welsh’ as being well, a bit rubbish…

You might’ve heard someone talking about a ‘Welsh cricket’ (a louse) or a ‘Welsh comb’ (using your fingers) and in this case the Welsh ‘rarebit’ simply meant a meal that was containing absolutely no rabbit (meat) and therefore only eaten by the poor.

Not only that, but the best cheese for melting on toasted bread probably wasn’t Welsh either! Typical Welsh cheese was often softer in comparison (i.e. Caerphilly Cheese) due to the acidity of our soil, whereas the English cheese (i.e. Cheddar) was much more preferable for a good melt.

So a traditional Welsh dish with its name and ingredients rooted in English customs! But, at least it is at home in the snack category, which is where we turn our focus now.

The History of Welsh Snacks

When we looked at the UK, we saw that snacking has evolved over centuries, with tea times introducing small bites like scones and cakes and in the late 19th century, snacks like biscuits.

The early 20th century saw the rise of crisps as a prominent snack, with Smiths Crisps setting up in 1913. Initially served unsalted, salt was introduced by the 1920s and additional flavours began to be seen during the 1950s. For any crisp nerds out there, the Museum of Crisps is the place to go!

As time progressed, a diverse range of snacks including chocolate bars, pasties, and sandwiches became ever more popular. More recently of course, healthier options like fruit, nuts, and yoghurt have also become prevalent choices for snacking here in the UK.

In Wales, as you would no doubt expect, we have done things little differently! Snacking traditions have been influenced by our unique culture and history, with Welsh snacks including items like Welsh cakes, bara brith (fruit bread), and cawl (a hearty soup). These snacks are very much a reflection of Wales' agricultural heritage and use of local ingredients. In modern times, Welsh snacks have diversified to include a range of options like Welsh cheeses, laverbread (seaweed), and artisanal baked goods.

And this is where Jones o Gymru plays its part, with a range of Jones o Gymru Crisps created with potatoes grown in Wales and, in line with tradition, flavoured with local ingredients such as Anglesey Sea Salt (Halen Môn).

We hope that you enjoyed us sharing our brief history of Welsh snacks! We found it interesting that Wales, possibly due to the historic isolation from the other British nations, has developed its own version of snacking with ingredients that remain true to the history of Wales that helped served those ancient land dwellers.

At Jones, we are proud to be playing our part in this history and hopefully look forward to creating some additional features in the future to continue the evolution of Welsh snacking in the years to come.