THE haggis. Many of us take it for granted, so used to seeing it on our plates we perhaps no longer pause to savour the complex combination of flavour and texture.

Wry jokes about haggis hunting season test the uninitiated and we laugh, proud of a simple dish as central to our culture as porridge and whisky (the delicious cranachan combining the two, as if to prove a point).

Haggis is a dish which is enjoyed the whole year round, although we tend to associate it with the winter, when everything about it seems to warm the diner. It comes into a particular spotlight on January 25, when millions of people across the world celebrate the work of one of Scotland’s most famous sons, Rabbie Burns.

The first Burns Supper was held in 1801, a few years after his death, when his friends decided upon a hoolie in his honour, and so a remarkable tradition was born. One estimate last year put the number of folk celebrating the life and work of Robert Burns at 9.5 million people, with around 2500 formal events held around the world. This distinctly Scottish celebration becomes a showcase of Scotland’s culture with pipers and fiddlers being flown to take part in international events.

READ MORE: Poetry competition for whisky lovers launches - with a rare, vintage prize

The Scottish Government commissioned Glasgow University’s Professor Murray Pittock, an expert on Robert Burns in global culture, to work out just how much Alloway’s “ploughman poet” brought into Scotland’s economy. The result? A whopping £203m! No wonder Visit Scotland has a step-by-step guide on how to host the perfect Burns Supper on their website.

Just how Scottish is our national dish, though? It is, after all, a load of minced up bits of animal innards mixed with oats packed inside a sheep’s stomach and boiled – a tradition which may well have been happening since hunters first made fire.

The answer, perhaps, is not that this “chieftain o’ the puddin race” was first created in Scotland, but that we were the people who made it our own, developed it, and wrapped it in our traditions. Many butchers across Scotland use recipes which have been handed down for generations. The family butcher, MacSweens of Edinburgh, still use the recipe made famous by their grandfather in haggis sold from Shetland to Singapore.

According to the Perthshire butcher, Simon Howie, a study by the Caledonian Offal and By-products Board (COBB) has shown that the average Scotsman eats a whopping 14.7 kg of haggis per annum, with regional variations ranging from Dumfriesshire (19.4 kg) to Orkney (7.7 kg), where it is savoured with clapshot – the delicious Orcadian blend of tatties and neep mashed with liberal mounds of butter and a copious shoogle of ground white pepper.

READ MORE: Scottish whisky distillery goes green with new cleaning technology

Vegetarian and vegan haggis may not have the same connection with Scottish mutton as the traditional dish, but the best recipes use pulses and grains to create a pepperiness and friable texture which provides a delicious alternative.

Indeed, the vegetarian versions have opened haggis up to a new market of connoisseurs. People whose religious or personal beliefs meant they avoided the original are adding haggis to the menu in new and wonderful ways, with haggis now enjoyed in pakora, spring rolls, toasties, and (a personal favourite) a sonsie baked tattie.

Whether you plan to pipe your haggis to a Covid-safe collection of friends, or enjoy it quietly with a dram or twa, don’t be shy about exploring the tradition our nation has brought to the world …

“Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware that jaups in luggies: But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer, Gie her a Haggis …”