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Why some people always make the best sandwiches

The sandwich must be the most popular and potentially healthiest fast food ever invented, especially when you want a healthy midday meal at work. This British Sandwich Week we look at the secret of the best sandwich.   2015-05-07

Everyone loves a sandwich. On average, we get through more than 55,600 tons of them every year probably because they are easy to make, can be adapted to all tastes and can be eaten anywhere with little fuss and mess. British Sandwich Week (10th – 16th May 2015) is held this year to honour and celebrate this simple yet famous food.

How it all begun

According to historians, the sandwich was “invented” by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, (1718-1792), British First Lord of the Admiralty during the American Revolution. One evening he didn’t want to leave his gaming table and go for dinner so he asked to be brought some meat between two slices of bread instead and hence the birth of the first and maybe most successful “fast food” came about.

Due to his title it soon became fashionable. It crossed the English Channel to mainland Europe and the term sandwich has even entered the French language.

Not a new idea

Historically, bread or bread-like substances have been used to wrap or scoop up food in other cultures.

  • The Jewish sage Hillel the Elder who lived during the time of King Herod, is said to have wrapped meat from the Paschal lamb and bitter herbs between two pieces of old-fashioned soft matzo (flat, unleavened bread) during Passover in the manner of a modern sandwich wrap made with flatbread.
  • During the Middle Ages in Europe, thick slabs of coarse and usually stale bread, called "trenchers", were used as plates.
  • In the 17th century the naturalist John Ray observed on a visit to the Netherlands that in ale houses, beef was hung from the rafters and cut into thin slices and eaten with bread spread with butter.
  • The Industrial revolution in the 19th Century saw the popularity of the sandwich rise due to the demand for fast, portable and inexpensive meals.
  • Outside Europe in the early 20th Century, bread became a staple of the American diet and the sandwich was promoted as an easy and quick meal.

How to make the perfect sandwich

You need four important elements to create a delicious sandwich:

  1. Bread;
  2. Protein or filling;
  3. Vegetables and condiment.

Often we concentrate on the filling part of the sandwich, using any bread available but ideally, the texture and type of the bread or rolls should work with the filling.

Whole-Grain Breads –For a satisfying healthy meal to keep you fuller for longer, team this up with leafy greens, sprouts and spreads such as hummus.

Thick-Cut Slices – You will need the support of these for heartier fillings such as meatballs, chicken, and fillings that may go soggy.

Soft bread or rolls is needed for soft fillings to prevent it from squeezing out the sides.

Sturdy bread such as a ciabatta is ideal for meats and melted cheese filling.

Soft interior and chewy crust such as a baguette is good for juicy fillings.

Distinct flavoured bread such as rye, pumpernickel and sourdough are good for heavily flavored fillings.


According to a survey done in 2012 by the British Sandwich Association (founded in 1990 as the voice of the UK's sandwich industry) of over 2,000 sandwich eaters in the UK, the ten most popular fillings are:

  • Egg mayonnaise - 24%
  • Cheese - 21%
  • Ham - 17%
  • Chicken - 13%
  • Tuna - 7%
  • Bacon, lettuce, tomato - 7%
  • Prawn mayonnaise - 5%
  • Jam - 3%
  • Crisp - 2%
  • Peanut butter - 1%

Lurpak butter also carried out a study to find the top lunch-time fillings and they found that cheese, ham and chicken sandwiches are the favourites.

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Cheese and the French Paradox

The phrase the French Paradox was coined when researchers observed that low coronary heart disease (CHD) death rates were recorded in France, despite the population’s high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. This phenomenon was originally attributed to the consumption of red wine, which contains resveratrol, a naturally occurring ingredient believed to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. However, further studies have found that people who ate mainly cheese had differences in their gut micro- organisms which affected the way lipids in their blood were used. This led to a lower cholesterol reading in their blood. 

Another study carried out in Cambridge showed that eating mouldy, old, smelly cheeses like blue Roquefort can protect people against cardiovascular disease due to a specific anti-inflammatory property found in the blue mould. So why not add cheese to your sandwich? It may even protect your heart.

Vegetables and condiments

Adding veggies to your sandwich immediately improves the nutritional value as well as adding flavour and colour. Tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, green and red peppers are very popular. What about that extra “something”? The spread need not be high in fat such as mayonnaise; it could be low-fat such as mustard, lemon juice or even marmite.


The beauty of the sandwich is that can be eaten at every occasion; typically taken to work, school, or picnics to be eaten as part of a packed lunch, eaten as part of a “posh tea” or a lazy supper. They are widely available in supermarkets, sold in restaurants and cafes. Basically they are the most versatile meal you can eat.

Long live the Sandwich!