Cullen Skink World Championships 2024: Moray village prepares for the Scottish soup competition

Their first was in 2015, though two years were skipped due to Covid restrictions
Last year's winners, Luke and Margaret Pic:  JasperImageLast year's winners, Luke and Margaret Pic:  JasperImage
Last year's winners, Luke and Margaret Pic: JasperImage

There is more to Scottish food than haggis, porridge and the dreaded deep fried Mars bar.

Among other delights, we also have our national soup, Cullen skink, which is made from smoked haddock - preferably finnan haddie - potatoes and onions in a creamy broth. To raise the profile of this wintery dish, Cullen Voluntary Tourist Initiative holds the annual Cullen Skink World Championships, with the seventh (2021 and 2022 were cancelled because of lockdown) of this event taking place on Sunday March 17 from 11am until 4pm.

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This year, it will be held in the Grand Ballroom at the Seafield Arms Hotel, where their head chef, Luke Green, won the award for best Cullen Skink with a Twist last year. It features two cook-offs - one for a traditional soup and the second for an inventive version with a twist - and participants will include home cooks and professional chefs.

The 2023 competition in full swing Pic:  JasperImageThe 2023 competition in full swing Pic:  JasperImage
The 2023 competition in full swing Pic: JasperImage

It must be something of a spectator sport, as visitors are welcome to come along and see a bit of live cooking before finding out who will take home the Cullen Skink World Championship trophy and its matching certificate. We asked organiser, David McGubbin to tell us more about the event.

Will this year be particularly notable and are there any new additions to the competition?

The championship has always been open to international competitors but 2024 is the first time since before the pandemic that we have had any international competitors enter. This helps to demonstrate the global appeal the dish has and its importance to Cullen from a heritage and tourism perspective.

Where do those competitors come from and how many are there?

The championship cupsThe championship cups
The championship cups

We have 12 competitors in each of the two competitions - the Traditional Cullen Skink and Cullen Skink with a Twist. There are a mix of competitors this year from across Scotland including Cullen, Kirkcaldy and Isle of Skye. From even further afield, we have an entry from Sheffield and one from the Netherlands. Last year’s winner of the traditional round was Margaret Macrae from Buth Bheag seafood shop and takeaway in Kyle of Lochalsh, and the runner-up was Lynne Watson of Lily’s Kitchen Cafe in Cullen.

Who are the judges, and are there any new ones?

The judging panel is Jimmy Buchan from Amity Fish, Alastair Fowlie from Moray College UHI and new for 2024, Euan Armstrong from Visit Moray Speyside. The panel do not know which entrant’s Cullen skink they are tasting, and the winner is chosen by the judges based on the ingredients, method of cooking and ultimately the taste of the dish.

What are you looking for, when it comes to the perfect Cullen skink?

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In the traditional competition, we are looking for an authentic Cullen skink that uses the key main ingredients and has the perfect balance of those to deliver the best flavour and texture. In the ‘twist’ competition, the ‘twist’ ingredient(s) need to complement the taste of Cullen skink. In the past, we have seen that if the twist ingredients are too outlandish they can overpower the soup or make it no longer taste like the dish.

Do people go a bit wild?

The Cullen Skink with a Twist competition is where we have seen some wild entries. In recent years the most interesting ingredient was chocolate that was grated on the top of the Cullen skink. At the end of the day, everyone has their own preference to how it should taste and what the texture should be and it is a fine balance. Our advice would be to keep the balance in favour of the traditional.

Do you think it's still a popular dish to be served in Scottish restaurants?

Absolutely yes. You will find Cullen skink on many menus, as it is a very well known and popular dish. Visitors come specifically to Cullen just to try our version and every eatery in the village has the dish on their menu.

Is it best served with bread, or a rowie?

I’d say that Cullen skink is usually served with oatcakes or bread on the side, less so rowies.

Are supermarket versions any good, or should we stick with homemade?

Some canned versions of Cullen skink are good, but nothing beats homemade version with freshly caught fish and the freshest of ingredients.

Tell us more about its origins

Its rather odd name is said to come from the Gaelic word for ‘essence’. Initially, Cullen skink referred to a type of broth that was made with the scrapings of beef from the front legs of cattle. Hard times in the early 1890s left the Northern people unable to buy this product. By this time, Cullen Harbour (completed in 1819) had become the thriving centre of herring fishing and the village also specialised in the production of smoked haddock. With many families in the local villages having a fishing background, they turned to smoked haddock instead of the beef, as it was in plentiful supply. By using this and various other products all put together, a distinctive delicious soup was made. Cullen skink was born. The dish in now a tribute to the many wives and mothers from the village who over the past years have made the soup for their families.

For more information on the Cullen Skink World Championships on March 17, see



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