Jan 09, 2015 by Andy
Baked beans, in the form that we know them today, were first sold in Britain in 1886. Luxury grocers, Fortnum and Mason, first sold them as a delicacy, imported from the US and targeted at the affluent consumer. However, despite their prestigious beginnings, it did not take long for the whole of UK society to take baked beans to its heart. They soon became a staple food for people of all social classes and status, and remain so today.
In fact, they are such a staple food that more than 90% of the world's tinned baked beans are consumed in the UK. The Heinz factory in Wigan is Europe's largest food factory, and produces more than a billion tins of baked beans every year.
Heinz is the best-selling manufacturer, with Branson and Crosse and Blackwell in second and third place respectively. Heinz beans reached these shores in 1901 and were imported from the US until the company opened a factory in Peckham, south London, in 1905. Other UK factories soon followed, in Harlesden (north west London) and Wigan.
The average Briton eats more than 15lbs of baked beans annually, and the nation as a whole eats more than a million tins a week. However, there is no room for complacency. In 2013, sales of baked beans in the UK fell by about 8.3 million kilos, knocking £20 million off manufacturers' sales. Nobody is quite sure why this is, but speculation suggests that Britain's changing attitude to food has turned people away from convenient foods and towards those cooked from scratch.
When it comes to beans, however, this may be a little misguided. According to the NHS Choices website, three tablespoons of baked beans constitute one of the recommended five daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Beans are packed with fibre and protein, and can (as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle) help to promote cardiovascular health.
Thus eating beans can be a good thing: but some people take it perhaps just a little too far. In 2005, a man who had changed his name by deed poll to Captain Beany turned his Port Talbot flat into a museum dedicated to baked beans. Other celebrity bean-lovers, although less extreme, include Australian cricketer Shane Ward and footballer Alan Shearer.
In 2014, the chef at a pub in Milton Keynes left his job because, he claimed, he suffered a morbid fear of baked beans that left him feeling faint and unwell every time he saw them. He was last heard of working as a window cleaner - given the British tendency to consume beans, hopefully he doesn't have to clean too many kitchen windows!
Indeed, baked beans have reached the very highest points of the UK establishment. In April 2014, a member of the House of Lords suggested that perhaps Britons should reduce their consumption of baked beans due to the effects of the resulting 'smelly emissions' on climate change. Fortunately for bean-loving Britons, consensus seems to be that the correct answer is 'no'.