The Fascinating History of Sandwiches

Did you know that in the UK, we consume an estimated 11.5 BILLION sandwiches a year? That works out at roughly 175 sandwiches for each member of the UK population annually!

To celebrate being a nation of sandwich lovers, we decided to dedicate a post to the fascinating history of sandwiches as well as some of our own favourite combinations too. Enjoy!

The Inventor of “The Sandwich”

It is said that the first official sandwich was invented in 1762. The story goes that John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, was fond of gambling, and his addiction to playing cards was so extreme that he was known to refuse to leave the table to eat or drink.

During a particularly long session, John found himself ravenous, so he called his chef and asked him to prepare something that could be eaten without interfering with his game. He didn’t want to have to use a knife and fork, and didn’t want anything that would make his hands (and consequently his cards) greasy!

The chef took on the challenge! Finding some leftover beef from yesterday's feast and some bread in the kitchen - and hey. presto! The chef presented the Earl with his new invention and it was an instant success!

While many associate this card-playing tale with the creation of the first sandwich, some claim that the inspiration came from an excursion to the Eastern Mediterranean, where the Earl saw grilled pita bread and small canapés served by the Greek and Turkish communities.

No matter how the invention came about, it’s thanks to the Earl of Sandwich that this creation has become so popular in Britain and across the world!

Negative Associations - Late Night Drinking Snacks

While the love for sandwiches was spreading around the UK and Europe, not everyone was convinced by this new culinary masterpiece. During its early years, this dish had a slightly negative connotation - being associated with late night drinking parties. This didn’t change until it became a go-to food for late night balls and similar events in the late 18th century.

In the US, there were also doubts about sandwiches. After achieving independence in 1776, Americans weren’t too fond of the thought of singing praise for a British-created dish. It wasn't until 1816 that the sandwich made its first appearance in an American cookbook. By then, the fillings were no longer restricted to cold meat such as beef or ham, and recipes included a wide variety of ingredients, such as cheese, shellfish, mushroom and even fruit!

It took a further 100 years for the sandwich to become a staple of the American diet, when, in the 1920s, white loafs of bread were referred to as “sandwich bread” or “sandwich loaves”.

Sandwich For Dinner?

During the 19th century, a trend of having a late lunch arose. This meant that the need for heavy, hot suppers was in decline, being replaced for a light, small dish (usually made of leftovers and served cold). This is where the sandwich began to shine. After all, sandwiches were small, could be eaten at any temperature and were a perfect way of enjoying your leftovers. This led the sandwich to becoming associated with evening suppers, teas, picnics and even snacks in pubs and inns.

As time went on and the working class developed, the sandwich’s popularity continued to grow. During the industrial revolution and development of railroads, sandwiches proved to be an ideal ‘on the go’ food. They could be sold inside trains and at train stations, where everyone was looking for a delicious after-work snack!

The Big Question...

We all love experimenting with bread. We love having it as a burger, a hot dog, with cheese or covering it with butter and jam. But the real question is, “is everything between two slices of bread a sandwich?” After all, when we go to a restaurant and order a burger or hot dogs we don’t call them sandwiches, right?

Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary a sandwich is classified as “an item of food consisting of two pieces of bread with a filling between them, eaten as a light meal.”

Crazy right? We’ve been calling all these different types of foods by their names when in reality they are all just fancy sandwiches!

Favourite BoroughBox Sandwiches

Alicia, our Head of Content absolutely loves sandwiches. From delicious katsu sandwiches in Japan to her own ‘open sandwich creations’ for picnics. Here’s what she said: “I’m a huge fan of open sandwiches, so I thought I’d share my favourite recent creation. Sourdough bread, medium cheddar cheese, sliced roast beef (slow-cooked on the bbq for 5 hours), gherkins, homemade red + white cabbage sauerkraut with apple and caraway, and mustard on top. Tastes so good! You get the smokey flavour of the beef, the saltiness of the sauerkraut, the smooth creaminess of the cheese, and the sweetness of the gherkins. Perfection!”

We leave you with our favourite fun facts on sandwiches!

Fun Facts:

1. Charlotte Mason was one of the first English cookbook authors to provide a recipe for sandwiches.
2. John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich once spent 24 non-stop hours at the card table!
3. Americans eat over 300 million sandwiches a day!
4. On average in the UK, six chicken sandwiches are eaten every second. (2015)
5. John Montagu’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandson Orlando Montagu founded a chain of sandwich restaurants called “Earl of Sandwich”. Featuring a homage to the Earl’s first sandwich, a hot roast beef, sharp cheddar, and creamy horseradish sauce served on warm bread.

And there we have it! Who knew something we eat every day had such a rich and interesting history behind it? No matter if you’re enjoying a burger, a hot dog, PB&J or one of your favourite creations, the sandwich has come a long way from its humble beginnings!

If you’re looking for some delicious sandwich fillers, check out this lowdown of some of our favourites:

ManiLife Peanut Butter Collection

Peanut butter fans - this is the brand for you! ManiLife has a big mission - to make “the tastiest peanut butter on the planet.”


Single Variety

A company with a skill for making mind-blowingly good chilli jams with a kick! 


Strawberry Preserve 200ml - England Preserve

Classic, fruity and delicious jams - you can’t beat their ‘Strawberry Days’ on toast!


Rubies in the Rubble

A sustainable food brand that makes condiments from surplus ingredients that taste absolutely divine.


The Great British Charcuterie Co

One for the meat lovers - a whole range of delicious artisan charcuterie treats such as Yorkshire ham, and wild mushroom and truffle salami. 

The Cheese Merchant

Cheese? Yes, please! We love their Best of British Cheese Box featuring delights such as Baron Bigod, Isle of Wight Blue, and some lovely buttermilk crackers and quince jelly.