You’ve probably heard about the superfoods you should be eating. Kale, sweet potatoes, and berries often make the big lists. Offal is another superfood of sorts. Also known as organ meats or even variety meats, they consist of the internal organs and entrails of animals, such as heart, brain, kidney, and tongue.
Offal is regularly consumed by many cultures. In the United States, however, their popularity has waxed and waned. If offal doesn’t sound appetizing to you, you may want to reconsider. Organ meats are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and other good stuff. Below, you’ll find more about the types of organ meats you can buy, what they taste like, and how to cook them.
Which organ meat should you try?
When choosing which organ meats to purchase, you’ll likely consider factors, such as taste and texture. However, where you source the meat from is also important. The health of the animal will impact the quality of its organs. Try asking around at local farms or farmers markets to find organ meat from animals that were grass-fed and pasture-raised for the best quality.
Hearts are typically sold whole, halved, or cut into slices, and can come from beef, veal, pork, lamb, or chicken. They contain good amounts of iron, selenium, zinc, and essential B vitamins. What the heart is most prized for is its coenzyme Q10, which is important for both balancing energy and protecting your body against oxidative stress. Regarding the taste: Some describe the beef heart’s flavor, for example, as similar to other cuts of beef, just more intense. Others find it faintly metallic.
How to prepare: Remove the stringy sinew before cooking heart. Dry heat is best for cooking this organ meat. Many choose to stuff and roast the whole heart. Others like to pan-fry seasoned slices.
The red meat many people are used to eating tends to have a grain to it. Liver, on the other hand, is smooth and tender. While liver can be quite expensive, its nutritional value makes it well worth the money. Liver, particularly from beef, contains hefty amounts of retinol, which is a form of vitamin A. It also boasts good amounts of iron, folate, choline, and vitamin B-12.
You can find beef, veal, pork, lamb, chicken, duck, and goose livers on the market. It has what some call a very distinct flavor and may take some getting used to.
How to prepare: Liver can be sliced and diced in any direction. Use dry heat when cooking.
Brains go bad rather quickly. For this reason, they typically sell in low volumes. In fact, they’re often frozen at processing facilities right after they’re harvested. As far as nutrition goes, brains contain the omega-3 fatty acid called DHA. They also happen to be very high in cholesterol, a 4-ounce serving of beef brains provides a whopping 1,134 percent of your daily recommended cholesterol intake.
You can also use the brains from veal. These have a mild flavor and a delicate texture.
How to prepare: Remove the membrane that covers the brain by soaking and blanching. Then either braise it or slice, bread, and pan-fry it.
The kidneys are shaped like beans in lamb and pork. In beef, these organs have a more irregular shape and include reddish-brown lobes and divots. Beef kidneys contain 20 grams of protein per 4-ounce serving. They’re also an excellent source of vitamins A and C, as well as iron.
You can incorporate the kidneys from beef, veal, pork, and lamb into your diet. One food columnist describes their taste as “feral.” Kidneys can taste “off” as well, especially if you aren’t working with quality organs. After all, the kidneys are responsible for removing toxins from an animal’s body.
How to prepare: Beef kidneys are tough, so you’ll want to use moist cooking methods if you decide to try them.
The sweetbreads are the thymus glands of calves or beef. While they may not sound as tasty as banana bread, sweetbreads are considered a delicacy. Their color is a pinkish-white, and their size actually peaks when a calf is between five and six weeks old. The nutrition of this gland comes on strong with vitamin C. It also contains solid amounts of riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-12, and pantothenic acid.
The texture of sweetbreads is tender and smooth. According to one food editor, sweetbreads taste “less musty” than other offal; they’re mild and even creamy.
How to prepare: Try soaking sweetbreads in cold water and blanching to remove the membrane that covers them. From there, you can braise them. Another option is to slice and bread the sweetbreads for pan-frying.
Tripe usually refers to the muscular lining of beef stomach. It can be either smooth or have a honeycomb texture. The difference has to do with which part of the stomach it comes from. You’ll typically find tripe at the store fresh or pickled. Dressed tripe is another type you may run into. It has been boiled and bleached, making it appear white. Tripe has good amounts of selenium, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B-12.
People explain that the value of tripe is more in its texture, which is chewy, than its flavor. It tends to absorb any liquid you cook it in.
How to prepare: Use moist heat while cooking tripe; it helps to break down the rubbery texture. Many people add tripe to dishes, such as soups or stews.
The rich flavor of the tongue comes from its high amount of gelatin. This organ meat contains good amounts of potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. It’s a good source of protein. Not only that, but a 4-ounce serving of lamb tongue, for example, also contains a whopping 136 percent of the daily recommended B-12 vitamin.
You can use the tongue from beef, veal, and lamb. The part of the tongue you eat may impact its texture and flavor: The back tends to be softer, while the front is chewier and milder in flavor.
How to prepare: Slow cooking is a great method for preparing tongue. Six to eight hours of simmering helps to soften the coarse texture. You’ll want to skin the tongue so it can be sliced. Some choose to pickle or corn tongue before cooking it.
Things to consider
Eating organ meats may not be for everyone. If you have the desire to include them in your diet, go for it. You’ll get a host of concentrated vitamins and minerals to fuel your body. If you’d rather skip the offal, that’s OK too. Try filling up on other whole fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and dairy. Superfoods include, but aren’t limited to:
- bell peppers
- brussels sprouts
- citrus fruits
- nuts (unprocessed)
- sweet potatoes
Other healthy eating tips:
Try cooking methods, such as baking, grilling, and sautéing instead of frying. It’s not just what you eat, but also how you prepare it that matters when cooking healthy meals.
Shop the perimeter of the grocery store to focus on fresh and unprocessed foods. Skip all the packaged stuff in the center of the store. Many of these foods contain what are called empty calories, which means they have excess solid fats and added sugars.
Fill up on seasonal foods. If you head to your area’s farmers market, you can find a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally.
Don’t use supplements to substitute for good nutrition. That said, these pills and powders can boost certain areas where you may need help nutritionally, such as iron or B-12. Always speak with your doctor before taking supplements. Some may interact with medications or affect underlying health issues.
Adapted from: Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C
Nutrition Tip of the Day
Be kind to yourself! If you’re not having a great day, don’t “reward” yourself with food; the wrong foods in the wrong amounts may become punishments instead of rewards. Take a bath, write a letter, surround yourself with true friends or buy yourself something that will make you smile. You deserve to have a wonderful month, and a fabulous rest of the year.