Champ: The Irish Mashed Potatoes With A Potentially Painful Ingredient

Authentic Irish food, while still heartily enjoyed through both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is less common in the United States. On St. Patrick's Day, Americans are mostly celebrating by eating Irish potato candy, drinking Guinness, and chowing down on all manner of spuds, while the Irish prepare traditional meals such as colcannon, boxty, corned beef, old-fashioned cabbage stew, and even carrageenan moss pudding if they are feeling a bit unwell during the holiday. 

These meals are meant to warm them up on what is likely a cold, rainy day and fill their belly with some simple yet delicious dishes. A very popular recipe in Northern Ireland is called champ or "poundie," which likely got its strange names from the Ulster-Scots language dialect specific to the Ulster countryside and evolved from Scottish settlers in the area (via The Windup). 

Champ, like many traditional Irish foods, is made of deliciously creamy potatoes.

What is Irish Champ?

At times, it feels as though all Irish food should be classified as "comfort food." With all of its warm and savory dishes chock full of meat and potatoes, it feels like a warm hug coming from your dinner plate, and champ definitely fits the bill. Champ today is commonly made with mashed potatoes, green onions, and rich Irish butter, and was originally created to ward off malnutrition during the era in history when the Irish were suffering under British rule and could afford very little food (via Taste Atlas). Not much about the recipe has changed since its conception, but before spring onions were incorporated into the dish, there was a pricklier green that the Irish used to harvest: the stinging nettle.

The Irish stinging nettle (scientifically known as Urtica dioica) is a perennial plant that Wild Flowers of Ireland describes as having spear-like and toothed leaves. It is native to the Emerald Island and does give an unpleasant and sometimes blistering sting if you touch it with your bare skin. The English Kitchen claims that historically, stinging nettle was cooked into champ because they grew freely and in large amounts throughout the countryside, making them easy pickings.

Champ's ingredients

Now, all things considered, you might balk at incorporating stinging nestle into your dinner, but it is actually an ancient practice. Gaia Herbs reports that nettles have been used in herbalism and the kitchen since the Bronze Age and are still used as medicinal tea and supplements today. The site claims that the nettles contain a fantastic nutritional value with quite a bit of protein, fiber, vitamins, iron, and calcium when steamed. And according to Wolf College, stinging nettle tastes quite a bit like spinach and loses its painful bite after being cooked, making them the perfect addition to champ.

As for the potatoes, The Spruce Eats suggests buying floury kinds such as russets. Constructing your champ is really easy. Recipelion says you must simply boil your potatoes until soft, skin them, then mash, and once your potatoes are done cooking, put in your chopped nettles and milk and mix all your ingredients together in a saucepan on low heat. Next, plate it up with some butter and you have perfect creamy, buttery, and herbaceous champ.

Champ vs. colcannon

Now, if you are already familiar with traditional Irish food, you might have realized that champs sound an awful lot like colcannon. And for those of you who don't know, colcannon is another mashed potato dish that utilizes greens and butter for texture and flavor. It is also popular during Irish holidays and acts as an accompaniment dish. So what is the difference between these two mashed potatoe dishes?

Well firsr, its name "colcannon" is presumed by Many Eats to be rooted in the Gaelic word for cabbage, which, besides potatoes, is at the heart of this dish. The cabbage existed in Ireland long before the potato and is notoriously good for your overall health (via Healthline). And according to Veggie Desserts, the colcannon has its origins in Southern Ireland whereas Champ is rooted in the North. Also, champ uses scallions or stinging nettles for its greens.

At the end of the day, both dishes are delicious and stuffed with enough potatoes and greens to fill your stomach and warm your heart.