The Fascinating Origins of the Sandwich Name

Sandwiches are a food loved by most and eaten daily by many. But have you ever wondered why this famous creation came to be called a sandwich? 

There has been much debate over who invented the sandwich, but there is little doubt that it has, in fact, existed in one form or another for thousands of years. In the Middle Ages, for example, people used ‘trenchers’ – thick slabs of bread – as edible plates to hold their meals and absorb any escaping juices.

One thing we do know, though, is the origins of the name sandwich. 

Come with us on a journey through time to explore the origins and history of the sandwich name and its many evolutions. 

The History 

The story begins in England in 1762 with John Montagu, the then Earl of Sandwich. The Earl was an avid gambler and played for hours at his card table. One day, so the story goes, the Earl allegedly called for roasted juicy meat between two slices of bread so he could eat with one hand and leave the other free for the cards, thus not interrupting his game. 

As the Earl’s dining habit became known to his gambling friends, they began to order ‘what Sandwich is having’, soon simply known as a ‘sandwich’, and the rest, as they say, is history. From that day forward, the sandwich craze spread across England, and by the late 1780s, it had become a well-established dish in households throughout the land. Due to its convenience and versatility, the sandwich quickly became popular with the working classes as it provided a substantial meal that could easily be consumed during breaks from work.

Although the Earl of Sandwich was the advocate who started the sandwich as we know and love it now, many believe he took inspiration from his travels around Europe. An avid traveller himself, he often visited the Mediterranean, where it was traditional for bread to be served with various fillings – perhaps the inspiration for the Earl’s request on that memorable day. 

Sandwich Name Variations

Since the sandwich was born hundreds of years ago, the name has adapted and evolved in different countries to match their style of cuisine. Almost every culture across the globe has contributed its own distinctive touch to the sandwich, highlighting the global influence of this culinary delight.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the many different varieties: 

  • The Sub

Named for its resemblance to a submarine, the sub roll – also known as a hoagie, hero, or grinder – is the perfect carrier for a wide array of hot and cold sandwich fillings. One popular theory as to the origin of the sub sandwich is that it was invented by an Italian shopkeeper in New London, Connecticut, where there was a large navy submarine base. The sandwich eventually became associated with workers at the sub yard, hence the name.

  • The Muffuletta

Literally meaning ‘little muffin’ in Sicilian dialect, this classic is another Italian immigrant’s contribution to the world of sandwiches. A popular sarnie created in New Orleans by a delicatessen owner, Salvatore Lupo, the muffuletta is made with round sesame bread of the same name from Sicily. The traditional muffuletta is split horizontally before being filled with ham, salami, Swiss, mortadella, and provolone cheeses, along with olive salad.

  • The Club 

The famous triple-decker club consists of turkey or chicken with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise and usually comes toasted, cut into quarters, and held together with cocktail sticks. There is some controversy around its origins—one story claims it was invented at New York’s Union Club, with a newspaper article in 1889 asking, “Have you tried a Union Club Sandwich yet?” The Saratoga Club in Saratoga Springs has also been suggested as the birthplace of this much-loved favourite.

  • The Barm

A barm cake is a flattish, soft, round bread from the north west of England, leavened with barm, a by-product of ale-making. A barm has become a colloquialism for sandwich in Manchester and the surrounding areas, with local favourites ranging from a bacon barm to a chip barm and the slightly more unusual pie barm in Wigan and pasty barm in Bolton!

Whether you call them barms, clubs, subs, sarnies or butties, sandwiches have certainly come a long way since providing the 4th Earl of Sandwich a solution to his gaming conundrum. The next time you tuck into this tasty snack, take a moment to appreciate the rich history of this renowned culinary icon.