The History of the Hot Dog

Photo by bhofack2/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by bhofack2/iStock / Getty Images

On Canada Day, visitors to the Albert County Museum will be offered free grilled hot dogs, so we decided to explore the history of the hot dog with “all the fixings.”

The hot dog can be traced back to Europe. Germany and Austria both lay claim to the meat –  Frankfurters come from Frankfurt, Germany, but wienerwurst (i.e., wieners) come from Vienna, Austria (in the German language, Vienna is called “Wien”).

The term “hot dog” is American and there are reports of frankfurters being sold on the streets of New York as early as the 1860s. The exact origins are unknown but it seems like immigrants in New York created the hot dog stand fad – possibly a Jewish immigrant from Poland named Nathan Handwerker or an African-American immigrant called Thomas Francis Xavier Morris. The key point being that the hot dog, like so many other foods, is the product of a blend of cultures.

What about the condiments?

Ketchup comes from the Far East, likely China, and was commonly consumed on long sea voyages. The first ketchup, called “ge-thcup” or “koe-cheup,” didn’t have tomatoes but was made from fermented fish entrails, miscellaneous meat byproducts and soybeans. Being fermented, the sauce stored well and spiced up the plain food of long trips at sea. The ketchup became popular along the trade routes in Indonesia and the Philippines. In the early 1700s, British explorers brought the condiment back to England.   

Ketchup soon referred to a fermented sauce of any number of ingredients, including fish, nuts, peaches, oysters, elderberries, anchovies, and (you guessed it) tomatoes.

Mustard is made by crushing the seeds of the mustard plant (which is related to broccoli and cabbage) and adding wine or “must,” very young wine. The difference between grainy and smooth mustard is simply the state of the seeds – coarsely ground seeds or a combination of whole and ground seeds are used in grainy mustard; smooth mustard has finely ground grains.

The Romans used mustard as a flavouring. They planted mustard when they conquered new areas – including Gaul (now called France). The condiment was a hit –with mustard growing well in the vineyards and Dijon and other mustards were developed.

Sauerkraut was developed as a way to store cabbage during the winter. The cabbage was shredded, salt was added, and the concoction was left in a covered crock to ferment. At the Albert County Museum, we’re growing Tancook cabbage, a variety named after the Nova Scotia Island where it was commonly grown. Tancook sauerkraut was a huge export for the small island – barrels of sauerkraut were often on sailing ships. Sauerkraut contains vitamin C, and regular consumption could prevent scurvy, a hazardous dietary condition common among sailors. Read more here.

So when you bite into your hot dog, keep in mind that, as with all foods, you’re consuming history. An all-dressed hot dog is the result of long sea voyages, the tendency of people to explore new lands and conquer other nations, the need to preserve food, and the desire for street food.

Learn more about the history of food at the Albert County museum’s website. Check often as we will keep adding new stories. Better yet, visit the Albert County Museum and garden in Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick. 

For more information about the museum garden and storytelling project, please contact Janet Wallace (email “Growing Together: Seeds from the past; seeds for the future” is funded in part by the Government of Canada. Ce projet est financé en partie par le gouvernement du Canada.

Written by Janet Wallace