How Did Organ Meats Become "Awful" (Offal)?
(Approximately a 7 minute read)
Organ meats were the animals' most precious gift to humanity.
Universally, in traditional cultures, organ meats were eaten first, with reverence, and often raw.
A family or community gathered around a carcass, gave thanks and honored the life of the animal, then ate the precious organs before processing the rest of the meat. Organ meats were the animals’ most nutritious, most powerful, gift to humanity.
In modern society, we tend to be repelled by the idea of eating organ meats. What happened?
Industrialization changed the way we eat
Historically, organ meats were prized as the highly nutritious food they are. But today we've forgotten how to prepare them, and we're repelled by them - what happened?
When industrialization and factory farming of animals allowed for production of large quantities of meat, cheaply, it was suddenly no longer necessary to be thrifty and respectful and make careful use of every part of a hard-won carcass.
In comparison to muscle meats, organ meats are delicate, time-consuming to process, and don’t keep well.
Not what you would describe as the ideal food for a system that produces on a massive scale, transports over huge distances, and needs food to be “shelf-stable” (read, “so unnatural that micro-organisms don’t want to eat it”).
The solution for big meat processing companies has been to downgrade organ meats to pet-mince status, or to discard them completely.
Supermarkets also changed the way we eat
Before there were supermarkets, there were specialty shops. Specialty butcher shops provided a huge range of what would now be considered “weird” cuts, including organ meats, along with advice on how to cook and eat them.
When supermarkets with convenient in-house delis, supplied by factory farms, took over from small locally owned and operated butcher shops, our loss of the skills and knowledge needed to prepare and eat organ meats accelerated.
Superfoods of the animal world
Small amounts of organ meats from healthy grass fed animals, eaten regularly, are a cheap way to stack in some seriously concentrated nutrition.
Organ meats are incredibly nutrient-dense. Lets take a closer look at some of them.
(Please note that I'm talking about the organs of grass fed animals who have lived a natural lifestyle. The profile of organs from animals raised in confinement and on unnatural diets would be significantly different. )
Heart meat is a very concentrated source of the super-nutrient, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10, important for cardiovascular health and also found abundantly in kidney and liver).
Heart meat contains an abundance of Vitamin A, Vitamin B12; folic acid, iron, selenium, phosphorus and zinc, and is the number one food source of copper.
Heart also contains about twice as much collagen and elastin as regular muscle meat (which means it is rich in the amino acids glycine and proline), which are essential for connective tissue health, joint health and digestive health.
Tongue has a nutritional profile closer to that of other muscle meats, meaning it’s a good source of iron, zinc, choline, vitamin B12, other B vitamins, and trace minerals. But it’s claim to fame is that it’s much higher in beneficial fats.
65-80% of the calories in tongue are fat calories, with the balance as protein.
And this is a good thing because…?
Well, besides being very tender and flavorful when properly cooked, tongue contains very high concentrations of monounsaturated fatty acids, particularly oleic acid – the same health promoting fatty acid found in nuts and olive oil.
(Oleic acid is also found in high concentrations in bone marrow, which is another significant source of high quality nutrition too often overlooked in our culture.)
Tongue is also high in stearic acid – one of the saturated fatty acids which lowers blood cholesterol levels.
Kidney is particularly high in Vitamin B12, selenium, iron, copper, phosphorus and zinc.
Liver is one of the most nutritionally dense foods in existence and nature’s most concentrated source of vitamin A (which, unlike synthetic Vitamin A, you cannot overdose on).
In addition, liver is an outstanding source of Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 (and other B-Vitamins), choline, copper, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, iron (in a form that is particularly easily absorbed and used by the body), purines and natural cholesterol (the good kind of cholesterol).
All organ meats also contain high amounts of essential fatty acids, including arachidonic acid and the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, and have some of the highest concentrations of naturally occurring vitamin D of any food source.
Phew. Did your eyes just glaze over?
In case they did, here’s the simple version: small amounts of organ meats from healthy grass fed animals, eaten regularly, are a cheap way to stack in some seriously concentrated nutrition.
The key words are "small," and "regularly." Forcing yourself to eat a large slice of fried liver, and being so traumatized by the experience that you don't go near it again for a year, is not the way to do it.
3 Painless ways to get started eating organ meats
Muscling down a large slice of fried liver by sheer will power, may traumatize you so much you never go near it again.
There are easier ways to get started and build your appreciation for organ meats.
If you and your family are new to eating organ meats, getting started might feel a bit overwhelming. Here are some tips for the two that are easiest to start with, and the one that is the most nutrient dense.
Heart is a good organ meat to start with. Its technically a muscle, so its closer in appearance and texture to the muscle meats we are used to.
My kids love it cooked rare just like a steak. Or you could combine it with minced (ground) beef, in which case they won’t even know its in there.
Tongue is another good starting point, because it too is a muscle, and it has that incredible fat profile mentioned above, making it much more palatable (at least in my family's opinion) than any of the other organs.
I haven’t forayed into fancy tongue dishes, mainly because there is one tongue per animal we butcher, and we never get tired of our very simple version: simmered in water and then served with gravy.
Once its been simmered in water to the point of tender (an hour-ish for a small pig tongue, more for a larger one), the skin comes off – sometimes easily, sometimes with a bit more fiddling—then we slice it and serve in gravy.
The kids ALWAYS ask for more, and they love it cold the next day, too. Although, as they grow, there is less and less left for the next day.
There is a trick to using liver in meat dishes to actually improve their flavor.
Liver. The organ meat that everybody loves to hate. I dislike the flavor of liver as much as anyone, and try as I might, I could never find a way to get past that flavor.
So now I’ve given up trying to prepare it in a palatable way. Instead, I hide it.
I freeze it in pieces about 6 to 12cm long by about 2 to 4cm thick (those are extremely rough measurements).
I get a piece out of the freezer whenever I have something to grate it into. I grate it, still frozen, into gravies, stews, soups after they are done, heat and stir for a minute or two longer, then serve.
Believe it or not, liver added to your meaty meals in this way will enhance their flavor, so long as you grate it reasonably finely and you don't use too much. Start with smaller amounts and work your way up to find the magic ratio.
I even grate it very fine and put about 2 teaspoons of it into a 2-liter chocolate milkshake (along with several raw, fresh-that-day, eggs).
I PROMISE, you won’t taste the liver in the milkshake. You’ll just have a super nutritious, extra foamy, milkshake. So long as you grate the liver finely enough, you’re more likely to notice the eggs than the liver.