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Why Do Americans Eat Corned Beef On St. Patrick’s Day?

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Corned beef is a St. Patrick’s Day meal staple in the U.S., but how did this holiday tradition begin?

Irish immigrants began eating the salty beef dish while celebrating their nationality on St. Patrick’s Day in the 1800s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Beef was a luxury their ancestors in Ireland were likely unable to afford — Irish farmers exported beef to England but ate pork, which was cheaper, in their own homes.

No, corned beef does not contain corn. The “corns” that give the dish its name are large grains of rock salt, which were used to cure the product so it would last longer.

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Irish immigrants made parades and meals of corned beef and cooked cabbage new traditions to celebrate their Old World roots. More than one million Irish immigrants arrived in the U.S. in the 19th century and settled in cities like Boston and New York City.

Today, more than 35 million Americans claim Irish heritage, according to Forbes. That’s nearly 12 percent of the U.S. population.

These Irish Americans were also responsible for transforming St. Patrick’s Day into the celebration of booze, leprechauns and all things green that it is now. The holiday was popularized back in Ireland by a 17th century Franciscan priest, who encouraged Irish Catholics to observe St. Patrick’s Day as a feast day. Irish Americans traded the hearty bacon they would eat on St. Patrick’s Day for beef in the New World.

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