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The Hamburger - America's First Fusion Food

Updated on May 23, 2010

How did the all-American hamburger come into being?

The history of the hamburger is not as all-American as it might seem with so many burger places making up the majority of fast food available in America. When you go abroad, it seems that hamburgers are the food that people outside of America most associate with America and everything American.

However, the components of the hamburger, including the beef patty, originate from all over the world and can be traced back for centuries!

The Hamburger Patty

The first beginnings that led to the development of the hamburger patty dates back to a long time before Columbus sailed the seas, long before the pilgrims were feasting on corn and turkey during the first Thanksgiving.

Copyright 2010:
Copyright 2010:

Over 900 years ago, tenderised beef was a delicacy in Russia among the Tartars, a Mongol tribe, who packed beef under their saddles and rode on it until it was soft (it makes you wonder who first originated the idea to do this and why?). Then, they chopped up the beef and ate it raw (steak tartare comes to mind).

Around the 18th century, the Russian style of tenderising and eating beef grew with popularity and was introduced to the German port city of Hamburg by sailors. There, the locals decided the beef would taste better if it were cooked and seasoned. So German chefs added eggs and onion, formed the beef into patties and fried them.

Then, when German immigrants arrived in the USA in the 19th century, they brought the Hamburg style of cooking beef with them. But up until this time, the beef patties were eaten just as patties - not as the popularised sandwich style.

Then, Charlie Nagreen of Wisconsin (owner of the first “fast food” wagon), sandwiched these German delicacies between two layers of a bun since some of his customers complained that the beef patty on its own left their fingers too greasy. Hence, the hamburger, as we know it was born.

“But what about the condiments?” you might ask...

What a Lovely Pickle!

The pickle wins the prize as the oldest, most enduring and most comedic member of the hamburger team with a history dating back to the Tigris Valley, around 2030 BC. It comes with a long history but also a lot of abuse, going through life mostly misunderstood. It has a confused identity as “pickle” is a verb as well as reference to a cucumber or any number of foods that could be soaked and preserved in vinegar or brine.

To be in a “pickle” means to be in a situation, a bad one usually, that you cannot get out of...a jarring experience to be sure! Even Shakespeare referred to the infamous condiment when he wrote in The Tempest “How camest thou in such a pickle?”

Pickles have been loved and adored throughout history – except in Britain where British people, statistically, do not love pickles (or gherkins) on their hamburgers. Yet it is not clear as to why.

And, where did pickles get such a funny name? There is a suggestion that the word originated around the 1400’s from Middle English “to pick at”. Also, there is another suggestion that pickle may be a synonym for brine. Or, perhaps it comes from the sensation that the first person whoever ate one got from the experience: a sour pucker + tickle of the taste buds. Pucker + tickle = Pickle.

Time to Catch Up with Ketchup

The first sauce which would eventually lead to the modern tomato-based ketchup as we know it today was a fish sauce called ke-tsiap. This sauce was invented by the Chinese in the 1690s. British explorers took the sauce back home to England with them. By 1740, the sauce became an English staple item more like Worcestershire sauce than ketchup. By 1790, tomato had been added and, through time, it had become mostly tomato sauce. Thank goodness for that! Otherwise, we would be eating our fries with fish sauce.

And, Finally...Mustard

Mustard wins the prize for the most international of the hamburger condiments. Records of mustard recipes date back to 42 AD. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the French were primarily responsible for developing and refining mustard preparation techniques.

With its pungent flavour and versatility as both a smooth paste and whole seed, use of the mustard has grown into various forms and associations with the local preparers around the world. Examples are the delicate Dijon mustard of France, the hot English and Chinese mustards, the mild, whole seed mustards of Germany, and many other variations including the yellow and brown mustards in America.

So when you think about it, the hamburger is not really all that American. It could even be considered to be a dish of worldwide influence and, perhaps even, America's first fusion food.


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    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Craan, thank you for your comment! Haha, yeah, I don't know about the french fries - another hub maybe? :-)

    • Craan profile image

      Sheila Craan 7 years ago from Florida

      Great information! All this talk about hamburgers has made me very hungry for a juicy one! I wonder how french fries came into being such a favorite hamburger side dish?

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      GarnetBird, I seldom eat burgers at all but once every few years, I break down and get a Big Mac from McDonalds - talk about guilty! :-) Thank you for reading and for your comment.

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 7 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Charming--I felt guilty about eating a hamburger today (I usually eat the low fat ones) and your Hub caused a grin.

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Claire, thank you for reading and for your comment. Hof's Hut is wonderful though, isn't it? I think it is truly American coffee house dining at its best! Seems weird to have a month dedicated to hamburgers...but heyho, whatever it takes to sell 'em. Gives people who eat burgers an excuse to indulge all month long, I guess!

    • profile image

      CLAIRE BOTHWELL 7 years ago

      When I got out of bed this morning, I had no idea the learning experience that lay ahead of me. First, to find out over breakfast at Hof's Hut that May is National Hamburger Month, and second to read Margit's timely article on its origins. After living in the States all these years, I've certainly come to love a good burger - although, being English I don't care for pickles on mine either! The part about tenderising the meat under the saddles is definitely the hubnugget I'll remember for my next cocktail party conversation! Thanks for writing this Margit.

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you, Money Glitch

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 7 years ago from Texas

      Interesting I don't ever recall hearing the history of the hamburger before. Thanks for sharing and Congrats on being selected to this week's HubNuggets Wannabe nominees. Good luck to ya!

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      My wife will not eat a hamburger without pickles - indeed she asks for extra on the side :)

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      tonymac04, thank you for your comment. I agree that I think it is disgusting what some fast food places use as filler for their burgers. Funny enough, I tried making vegetarian burgers using chickpeas and chopped vegetables but I think the word sawdust was what my husband used to describe the ground chickpeas.

      My British husband is one of the rare ones who does like pickles on his hamburgers.

      All the best,


    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you billyaustindillon for your comment and your vote! It was fun writing this, even though I am not a fan of hamburgers, my husband is!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      I loved this read about the hamburger - I had often wondered how it came into being. I like hamburgers, but they must be genuine meat and not the sawdust many fast food outlets dish up!

      Also I'm with the English - don't much like pickles on mine.

      Love and peace


    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      A great hub and you got my vote with the history of the hamburger and what a great history it is!

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi ripplemaker,

      Thank you for your comment. Funny how certain foods are part of our life but we often do not know their origins.

      Thank you also about the notice about the hubnugget.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      The history of the burger suddenly reminded me of my late grand aunt who used to make homemade burger patties for us. Hmmm interesting so this is how hamburger came to be. :)

      Hey, have you heard the latest news? Your hub is a Hubnugget Wannabe! Yes, it is. Move to this place where you will see the nominees. Be sure to vote okay?