February 12, 2018

Australia’s unique contribution to hamburger culture – beetroot

Filed under: Australia, History, USA, WW2 — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

On one of my mailing lists, an Australian member made a bit of a to-do about the only “proper” burger having “beetroot” on it, along with other (one assumes lesser) condiments. Having been pranked more than once by Aussie friends, I was sure he was just doing his bit to wind up the American burger purists on the list. Yet, a very cursory search produced this article from back in 2014 that appears to fully back the original assertion:

Australian hamburger sightings started during the ’30s: a by-product, no doubt, of our blossoming post-first world war relationship with America, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that beetroot began regularly appearing alongside tomato, lettuce and onion on burgers. That was thanks largely to the openings of the Edgell and Golden Circle canneries in 1926 and 1947 respectively – but one of the more interesting theories, however, suggests the trend has its origins in pranking US troops ashore on R&R.

“Maybe it was our desire not to be Americanised?” ponders Warren Fahey, Australian folklore collector and author of Australian food history compendium, Tucker Track. “For some reason the idea of hamburger wrapping stained by beetroot juice was accepted as the sign of a great hamburger. People get quite emotional over the subject of Australian hamburgers. Some say a real hamburger must have slices of canned beetroot and others still declare its inclusion as a travesty.”

According to Fahey, beetroot on burgers had its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s. Following the simultaneous 1971 arrival of fast food’s big two – the first McDonald’s opened in the Sydney suburb of Yagoona, while Hungry Jacks, the Aussie nom de plume of Burger King, began its Aussie campaign in Innaloo, just north of Perth – the combination’s popularity began to wane, as did that of milk bars, beachside kiosks and other traditional hamburger vendors.

Despite the sustained growth of American franchises, however, Australia’s burger-with-beetroot population remains stable. Even once the big players pull their seasonal go-Aussie burgers after 26 January, the odds of finding a beetroot-enriched specimen at a neighbourhood lunch bar or new-wave “gourmet” hamburger chain remain good.

[…] the country’s last Australian-owned cannery shut in 2013. Fortunately, the signs are promising that farmers in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley might soon have a processing facility to call their own. It’s a cause we can all get behind, not just for the sake of a rural Australian community, but in the name of national pride: an Aussie hamburger made using beetroot processed overseas just doesn’t seem fair dinkum.

A New Zealand member of the list also chimed in, saying that beetroot was an essential component of Kiwi hamburgers as well. While it might sound weird, it’s probably no more so than pickles or relish as a burger topping, once you get used to it.

Update: In 2017, New Zealand McDonald’s re-introduced the Kiwiburger, including beetroot:

So, you can get your beetroot burger fix in both Australia and New Zealand (for a limited time, anyway).

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting!

    Comment by Steve Muhlberger — February 12, 2018 @ 07:52

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