Hash Browns: The Story Behind America’s Breakfast Staple
Image Credit: Hash browns

When you have leftover food in the fridge, there’s an urge to either throw them away or use them to whip up something tasty for breakfast. That’s exactly what the Americans must have thought when they started the trend of hash browns for morning meals. Made with leftover potatoes, the idea was to put them to good use. And the outcome was a delightful treat that over time became a breakfast staple.

For the unversed, hash browns refer to hashed and browned potatoes. The leftover boiled potatoes were shredded and pan-fried to give them a crispy makeover. The potatoes are usually served as a side dish in most meals. However, this fried form turned it into a breakfast favourite in the US.

There isn’t much information available that can trace the origin of this delectable breakfast treat, but it is said that the term hash browns first appeared in the book, titled Kitchen Companion, written by Maria Parloa in the year 1887. The American author is renowned for her knowledge on the subject of food, and this literary gem is the first ever evidence of the dish. However, it wasn’t always called hash browns. 


The book highlights how the name was originally ‘hashed brown potatoes’, which then became ‘hashed browns’, and finally held on to ‘hash browns’ as a way to refer to the dish. The term ‘hash’ finds its origins in the French word ‘hacher’, which points to the action of chopping or hacking. Since the leftover potatoes were made in a similar fashion, it is believed that the dish got its name from there.

In her book, Maria describes hash browns as, “fried mixture of cold boiled potatoes”. She also adds how they used to be folded like an omelette after being fried. The hash browns are usually associated with the US as one found them on the breakfast menus of New York in the late 19th Century. The defining feature of this dish is the fact that the finely chopped potatoes are fried until they turn completely brown. This is not to say that they become super greasy treats. They are golden and packed like a cake that has been freshly assembled. 

Gradually, the taste of hash browns spread to other parts of the world. Today, you’ll find them on British breakfast menus too. Interestingly, you’d find several variations of this humble potato dish across the globe. Some like to dice it, while others prefer them shredded or julienned. There are also those who rice their potatoes to lend them a crispier texture. The hash browns have often been linked to similar dishes in other cuisines like the Swiss Roesti (which are made of raw potatoes), the Jewish latkes (which are more like mini potato pancakes), and the tortilla de papas or the Spanish omelette (which is loaded with eggs, potatoes and more).