Appalachia Appalachian Food

What’s The Deal About Deviled Food?

Deviled food

I never thought of deviled food in the sense that it was ‘of the Devil’ or spooky in anyway whatsoever. You know things like devil’s food cake, deviled ham, deviled crab, and the king of deviled food-deviled eggs. Truthfully, I never thought about deviled food at all-except for the required thinking it took to perform the action of putting it in my mouth.

The Straight Dope website offers these historical tidbits about deviled food:

“The word “devil” as applied to food first appears in 1786, when it was used to describe a “(highly seasoned) fried or boiled dish” (references 1, 6). From reference 1:

Devil . . . A name for various highly-seasoned broiled or fried dishes, also for hot ingredients. 1786, Craig “Lounger NO. 86 ‘Make punch, brew negus, and season a devil.'”

“Deviled” as a word first appears in 1800, when it was used in the phrase, “At half past two ate a devil’d kidney” (reference 2). According to the Oxford Companion to Food,

Devil–a culinary term which . . . first appeared as a noun in the 18th century, and then in the early 19th century as a verb meaning to cook something with fiery hot spices or condiments. . . . The term was presumably adopted because of the connection between the devil and the excessive heat in Hell. . . . Boswell, Dr Johnson’s biographer, frequently refers to partaking of a dish of “devilled bones” for supper, which suggests an earlier use (reference 3).

In America the use of “deviled” was known in the early 19th century:

Deviled . . . Any variety of dishes prepared with hot seasonings, such as cayenne or mustard. The word derives from the association with the demon who dwells in hell. In culinary context the word first appears in print in 1786; by 1820 Washington Irving has used the word in his Sketchbook to describe a highly seasoned dish similar to a curry. Deviled dishes were very popular throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, especially for seafood preparations and some appetizers (reference 4).”

  1. Oxford English Dictionary Online, 2nd edition, entries “devil (n)” and “devil (v)”
  2. Oxford English Dictionary Online, 2nd edition, entry “deviled (n)”
  3. Oxford Companion to Food, by Alan Davidson (1999), pp. 247-248
  4. Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, by John Mariani (1999), pp. 110-111



*Source: The Straight Dope

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  • Reply
    October 12, 2018 at 1:12 pm

    Well Tipper, it is getting close to Halloween….
    So guess i will have to have some devil eggs and aome good o witches brew

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    November 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Very informative!
    God bless.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Getting away from the food topic I have heard the word devilment used by the older folks in referring to people or kids acting up , cutting a shine, aggravating others, teasing, etc. Interesting word history and if I was going to have to eat a kidney I would want it deviled! Judith

  • Reply
    N. O. Shea
    October 12, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Eldonna’s comment would have been perfect to save for your “overheard” series…

  • Reply
    Frank N. Stein
    October 12, 2013 at 11:38 am

    In response to “Deviled Dog”! That’s what happens when they howl at the moon to long and wake the neighbors!
    thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    U. A. Sneekey
    October 12, 2013 at 11:34 am

    In response to edlived….Only the “devil knows”….He he he

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    October 12, 2013 at 5:09 am

    Just for fun I will share a devil story, this one is the cartoon character, the Tasmanian Devil. A local pastor had a tie with this character on it. I heard two women talking at our local restaurant. They were critical of the minister for wearing a tie with the devil on it. Too funny, I guess some people are just very literal.

  • Reply
    Ula Drake
    October 11, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    They are having a blood drive at work. I considered giving but its too tempting to me. I don’t know what I would do if I climbed on that bus amongst all that deliciousness. I’m afraid I might lose it and hijack the whole operation. Happy Halloween!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Did you know that deviled backward is edlived. Ed lived? What does that say about me?

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    October 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I just love food history and period recipes!

  • Reply
    October 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm


  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 11, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    I’m not real big on deviled things,
    but I like deviled eggs. The other
    day I got a half dozen (which made
    a dozen) at the grocery deli for
    about $3.00. They weren’t good. Mine
    taste better cause I like a little
    heat in ’em…Ken

  • Reply
    I N Stine's
    October 11, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Ever heard the little cans of deviled ham called deviled dog?

  • Reply
    October 11, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Thanks for the info – like you, I’d never given it much thought.

  • Reply
    Pam Moore
    October 11, 2013 at 9:45 am

    I believe deviling meat was popular because the meat was often not fresh. It covered the unpleasant taste.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2013 at 9:25 am

    I’m looking forward to your recipes and hope one or two will include curry as an ingredient.
    I wonder if anyone else has heard the word deviled used to describe teasing. I remember it was usually about a girl or boyfriend. Tipper deviled the girls when she found unidentified initials formed with bobby pins.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 11, 2013 at 8:59 am

    I’m back…he he he
    Thinking that Devil Foods Cake is not spicy or vinegary!
    But of the devil as a no, no dessert of decadence! One shouldn’t eat so much of it! LOL
    Mom had a recipe I guess many of your readers have tried called…
    “Sin, Sin” ooooohhh! It was sinful, very rich and very hard to stop eating.
    Have you ever heard of “deviled pigs feet”?
    I think they look nasty! All that jelly stuff around them in the jar with mustard, vinegar and other spices floating in it! Yuk!
    I used to worry about my Mom when she and Dad would crave a jar of Pickled or Deviled Pigs feet! ewwwwww…Dad said his Mother canned them…I don’t guess they wasted a hair on that hog back in the day! ewwwww
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    October 11, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Thanks Tipper, this is very interesting. I have never eaten spicy deviled eggs, they are a little tangy because my husband likes them made with vinegar. I prefer the mayo version.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 11, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Well, well “Up jumps the devil” this morning! What in the “devil” got you on this subject? LOL
    I tend to think of “deviled” as having vinegar and spices in the recipe!
    I read somewhere that during the olden medieval period, strong spices and vinegar soaked bonesand meat, cut down on the taste of meats spoiling! Also may have helped in keeping one from getting too sick! I guess slobberin’ down that nasty spicy vinegary meat, washed down with mugs of “brew”, one was probably so sick it didn’t matter anyhow! Ewwwwwww…I wish I could remember which book or(cookbook) I read that in!
    This just makes me want some “deviled” enchiladas or fritatas….LOL How about an Italian “deviled” meatball! Maybe a “deviled curry fruit compote”?
    I ponder! Do you think “deviled”
    is just an American term brought to us from old English!
    What about “Witches Brew”?
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Keep the joy going!

  • Reply
    October 11, 2013 at 8:45 am

    While I agree that this applies nicely to eggs, meat, etc., but I wonder how it applies to a delicious chocolate devil’s cake. Interesting to say the least! I’ll await some deep thinking about this one! If I had a mix here, I would check the ingredients. Tempting!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 11, 2013 at 8:08 am

    that’s cool, I always thought it was because it was “deviled” with them. Have you heard deviled used as in I deviled with it til it worked. Messed with, worked on, etc.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 11, 2013 at 7:23 am

    Now that’s interesting, Tipper. If I were asked the meaning of deviling foods I would not have said hot and spicy. I would have said it had to do with things being broken down from a solid state to a mushy state. Agitated is the word I would use. That is also what I think the devil does to people. It agitates them thus causing all kinds of problems. But I sure can see the connection with heat and the devil.
    Words certainly are interesting and the source of words is fascinating. I guess I will be cogitating about deviled eggs all day today!

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