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Who Invented the Sandwich?

The History of the Sandwich

Some bread, a savory or sweet filling, and your favorite condiments: Sandwiches are a classic go-to for a reason. They’re the perfect lunch—as light or as heavy as you wish—and their portability has made them a favorite for picnickers, backpackers, and lunchbox-toting children (and their parents).

But what exactly do we mean when we call something a sandwich? Is there a proper definition of a sandwich? And where are sandwiches from? Grab a slice of bread and read on.

What Is the Definition of a Sandwich?

Merriam-Webster defines a sandwich as “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between” or “one slice of bread covered with food,” which leaves the conversation pretty open (and open-faced). Going by that definition, a sandwich isn’t just the traditional American-style square-shaped offering on two slices of bread. It can be a filling encased by a pita, a bun, or even a tortilla—depending on your jurisdiction.

If you eat a burrito or hot dog in the state of New York, you’re eating a sandwich. Cross the border to Massachusetts, and your burrito reverts back to burrito-only status; same in Minnesota. (As for the scribes of American definitions, the folks at Merriam-Webster acknowledge that the hot dog issue is intensely debated, and they consider this baseball-stadium tradition part of the sandwich world.)

The Origins of the Sandwich

So, what year was the sandwich invented? While historians don’t have a date for the invention of the sandwich or specific information on who invented the sandwich, we know that sandwich-style eating has been around since at least the first century BCE. An early record of this is found in the Haggadah, which tells the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt and is the guidebook for the Passover seder. The text notes how rabbi and scholar Hillel the Elder made sandwiches using lamb, bitter herbs, and matzah, a type of unleavened bread similar to a cracker.

This record meshes with the long history of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines featuring meats and other foods on flatbreads—a predecessor to pizza as well as a variation on the sandwich.

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich

Why is a sandwich called a sandwich? Though we may not be able to credit anyone as the original sandwich inventor, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, is the lucky fellow the sandwich was named after.

The first known use of the word *sandwich* was found in a November 24, 1762, diary entry by the English historian Edward Gibbon. He writes about seeing men eating “a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich,” with the uppercase S implying this is from someone’s name.

In the early 1770s, French writer Pierre-Jean Grosley wrote of a scene at a gambling table featuring Sir Sandwich: “A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play, that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat [sic] without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London; it was called by the name of the minister, who invented it.”

While it’s not clear whether the anecdote was true, it did set the association between this convenient meal and the Earl of Sandwich. (The family doesn’t seem to mind—in fact, the current Earl of Sandwich agreed to license his title to a sandwich chain. The word sandwich was used in a British cookbook for the first time in 1773, and in American cookbooks in 1816.

Popular Types of Sandwiches

While the classic meat-on-bread sandwich is how this concoction began, it’s come a long way since John Montagu sat nibbling on one while gambling. Today, sandwiches come in infinite varieties (see also: the fluffernutter and “The Elvis,” a concoction of peanut butter, banana, and bacon, favored by Elvis Presley). But there are a handful of classics that we turn to time and time again:

1. Peanut Butter and Jelly

This lunchbox favorite started out as a fancy treat designed to promote good health. The late 19th century saw elegant ladies snacking on small, crustless tea sandwiches at their lunches. Around that time, health food advocates suggested peanut products as a replacement for animal-based foods, so the peanut butter sandwich seemed a perfect fit for lunching those who wanted a healthy option.

The first known recipe for a PB&J sandwich appeared in 1901 via The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science & Domestic Economics. And in the 1920s, manufacturers started mass producing the nutty spread and targeting children as potential customers—hence its popularity today with the elementary school set. (Not that adults are immune to the charms of a PB&J.)

2. Grilled Cheese

The grilled cheese is America’s top sandwich (no wonder—enjoying the contrast of melted cheese and crispy toast is a nice way to spend your time). A grilled cheese is usually made with one or more types of cheese placed between two slices of bread that are buttered on the outside and then heated on a pan or on a griddle.

While Roman texts contain recipes for similar creations, and the French croque monsieur has been around since the early 1900s, the grilled cheese we know today started in the 1920s. After the invention of a bread slicer that made it easy and affordable to distribute white bread, grilled cheese officially became the greatest thing since sliced bread. This prototype was made on one slice, making an open-faced sandwich that was called a “cheese dream” during the Great Depression. It sometimes featured ham or bacon with various condiments and spices, and was served in tomato sauce for Sunday Supper.

In the 1960s, it became standard to add a second piece of bread to make it more filling. Ultimately, a grilled cheese sandwich can have anything you want in it: tomato, pears, meat, potato chips, or whatever tastes right to you alongside your favorite melted cheeses and crunchy bread.

3. Tuna Salad Sandwich

Another American classic, this sandwich began with the “salad” part of its moniker, not the “tuna” part. In the 19th century, thrifty homemakers scrupulously avoided food waste by combining leftovers —often celery, olives, and pickles—with mayonnaise and serving the resulting salad-like relish with lettuce. Fish sometimes entered the picture, but tuna was relatively unknown in the United States.

Fast-forward to the 1920s. Women were entering the workforce in greater numbers, and they needed a quick, on-the-job lunch. Sandwich counters served up the relish salads their foremothers had created—stuffing it between two slices of bread for a tidier, quicker meal. Around the same time, canned tuna became popular, and the accident of timing resulted in the rise of the tuna salad sandwich.

Try HelloFresh’s Tasty Sandwich Recipes and Dinner Ideas

The hardest part of making a sandwich is deciding what to put on it and gathering all the ingredients. HelloFresh does all that for you—leaving you with simple prep … and a delicious meal. Browse our sandwich recipes here, and check out our go-tos:

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