What Is Mincemeat?

Hint: it's a classic holiday dish in England.

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October 15, 2021
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Mince pie on baking paper

Photo by: Lena_Zajchikova/Getty Images

Lena_Zajchikova/Getty Images

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

Not as common in the U.S. as it is in Great Britain, mincemeat is a sweet, spiced fruit mixture usually used as pie filling. Mincemeat is typically associated with Christmas traditions, and November through the end of December is when you’ll see it available in jars at many grocery stores.

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Organic Homemade Mincemeat Filling for Holiday Pie

Photo by: bhofack2/Getty Images

bhofack2/Getty Images

What Is Mincemeat, and What's It Made Of?

Mincemeat is a combination of chopped dried fruits, spices, sugar, nuts, distilled spirits, a fat of some type and sometimes meat.

The name is a carryover from 15th century England when mincemeat did indeed have meat in the mix; in fact, the whole point of mincemeat was to preserve meat with sugar and alcohol. Mincemeat pies became a status symbol because meat and fruit were expensive. Wealthy Englishmen typically threw big feasts around Christmas and started including them at their holiday tables.

In the 21st century, the classic ingredients in mincemeat pies are apples, candied citrus peel, raisins, sugar and brandy. Cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg typically spice the mixture. More often than not, mincemeat today doesn't contain actual meat, but it can contain meat.

There are lots of variations on mincemeat. In the U.S., bakers often add fresh and dried cranberries, walnuts or blanched almonds, dried currants, dates, meat (beef, lamb or chicken) and beef suet or butter. Suet is used to make the filling rich and silky, but if you want a meat-free version, butter is a good substitution.

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Making Christmas mince pies, with cut out pastry for tops and a rolling pin on a floury surface, part of a series.

Photo by: abzee/Getty Images

abzee/Getty Images

What Does Mincemeat Taste Like?

Owing to the amount of sugar, brandy and spice in mincemeat, the first flavor is a hit of spicy-boozy sweetness. The flavors of citrus and raisins then come through. Mincemeat has the texture of chunky, thick preserves. If the recipe has suet, there will be a beefiness to the mixture; if butter is in the mix, you’ll taste that too. If almonds were used, they’ll absorb the spice flavors and be more of a texture element, while walnuts will bring some extra buttery flavor.

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mince pies

Photo by: john shepherd/Getty Images

john shepherd/Getty Images

What Is Mincemeat Pie? What About Mince Pie?

Mincemeat pie and mince pie are the same thing; mince is simply the nickname for mincemeat. And by pie, what people really mean is a little pie about the diameter of a cupcake filled with mincemeat. The crust is basic pie crust, and the top is a second crust or a cookie-cutout. Mince pies are traditionally enjoyed in England around the holiday season.

What Is Mincemeat Used For?

Mincemeat is most often used in mincemeat pies. But British webpages have all sorts of ideas for alternate uses for mincemeat (or mince as they call it) including using it to fill cookies, layering it in a crumb coffee cake or mixing it with diced fresh pears to make a baked fruit tart. Given that mincemeat is sweet, spicy and savory, it can also be a delicious filling for meat like a pork roast.

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