The Past, Present and Future of the Sandwich

If I had to bet on what you ate for lunch today, I'd put my money on a sandwich. After all, 49 percent of U.S. adults eat at least one sandwich per day. And who can blame them? The savory filling between two slices of bread is convenient, satisfying and customizable.

You may think the creator of such an ingenious meal was a renowned, talented chef, but that's not the case. As the story goes, the Earl of Sandwich, a committed gambler, was too invested in his card games to break for mealtimes, so he nibbled on a piece of beef between two slices of bread while placing his bets. The name quickly gained in popularity.

Sandwiches first appeared in American cookbooks in the early 1800s, but recipes called for more than just meat between two pieces of bread. A variety of foods were added to sandwich recipes including cheese, condiments, fruits, nuts and vegetables.

Today, you can find sandwiches on almost every menu of any restaurant — from fast food to gourmet.

Burgers are one of the most popular sandwiches, with 9 billion purchased at U.S. restaurants and other food outlets just last year. As consumers continue to demand high-quality ingredients, terms such as "grass-fed," "natural" and "hormone-free" have become common. Although the price of beef is expected to rise, there is no forecasted decline in burger consumption.

Another popular division of the sandwich category is deli and sub sandwiches. While a majority are prepared at home, they still top the charts of sandwiches purchased at foodservice outlets, mostly due to their perceived health and customizability. With 60 percent of the market, Subway and its variety of toppings is the leading deli sandwich provider.

While burgers and deli sandwiches may have the edge in the market, breakfast sandwiches are an interesting new competitor. According to the "Sandwich Consumer Trend Report" published by market research company Technomic, breakfast sandwiches have displaced bacon in the top 10 breakfast items and are praised for their convenience and portability. McDonald's recently announced a trial in some restaurants to offer these options throughout the day, instead of only in the morning.

Whether you have your sandwich for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you are sure to enjoy it with many toppings, flavors and dressings. I'd bet on it.

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Gillean Barkyoumb
Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RDN, is the creator of Millennial Nutrition, a hub of nutrition information for health-conscious foodies. Get inspired by connecting with her on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.