My 7 year old son was beside himself with excitement as we went on a day trip up to Kansas City last week. He knew that along with several other stops, we would be heading to our very favorite butcher shop, The Local Pig. If you’re ever in the Kansas City area do yourself a favor and go check it out along with their awesome onsite food truck, “Pigwich”. You’d think that a boy his age would be hankering for some burger patties or hot dogs but no, he had one item on his list and one item only; beef heart! My son cannot get enough of it sliced thin like a deli meat and rich in flavor. He regards it as a special treat.
In today’s society we don’t typically fantasize about digging into a nice juicy liver with a side of mash or frying up some heart or kidneys for a quick snack. Eating Offal, or organ meats, seems foreign, strange and mostly gross to our palates. You may be surprised to learn, however, that organ meats were once the most desired for consumption from a freshly butchered healthy animal and were in fact saved for those deemed the most “important” in a given culture.
A lot of Traditional people groups used Organ meats to support their own organs. Eating offal was actually medicinal in nature for them as particular organs from healthy animals would be given to those with corresponding human organ issues as a treatment. For example, feeding heart to a person with a weak heart. Hunters from all round the World alike would share in the tradition of eating the liver raw and right away after harvesting an animal. This is seen in the animal kingdom as well, as predators out in the wild will also eat the liver first.
Even as recently as a couple generations back, cookbooks would have lots of recipes that incorporated Organ meats. Liver alone would have such various preparations as dumplings, pastries, minced, roasted, pureed, made into pates and sautéed. Other organs such as heart, kidneys, brains, intestines and sweetbreads would be combined into sausage, pie, fritters, haggis and soups.
Offal has been sought after and even revered by some native cultures. Why is this so? If something is quite off-putting to the eyes and nose and sometimes even the tongue, why go to the trouble of consuming it?
My husband and I first came across the concept of “nose to tail” eating while reading several books and articles on the topic as it related to an ancestral way of eating and also the concept of raising animals to use as much of them as possible. It is pretty common today for most people, as it was for us; to not really think beyond the “normal” cuts of meat found on a pig, cow, chicken or other animal. It can seem foreign and strange to use things like innards yet funnily enough these parts can be much more nutrient dense than their more common counterparts.
Organ meats from pasture-raised animals in general are extremely nutrient-dense particularly in Riboflavin, Niacin, Phosphorus, Selenium, Thiamin, Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, Copper and Iron. They pack much more of a nutritional punch than the muscle meats that are so common in the modern western diet and have some of the highest levels of Vitamin D than any other foods. In addition to all that, they also have high levels of omega 3 fats EPA and DHA, which can be hard to get enough of in the standard western diet. As you can see in the chart below, the organ meats excel in nutrient density when pitted against common muscle meat picks:
All organ meats are beneficial and nutritious but the powerhouse is most certainly the liver. I know a lot to people are cringing right now because they grew up eating liver prepared in un-palatable ways. I get it. It kinda looks gross and definitely has its own distinct aroma. My solution to this dilemma is to puree it and then “hide” it in recipes that call for ground beef like chili, burgers or casseroles. I also have been known to throw some organ meats into the sausage meat with the other spices before grinding it up and packaging it. We butcher our own pigs and lambs on our farm so therefore we can easily control what goes in our sausage.
If you don’t happen to have a farm, there are still ways you can access some good quality organ meats. A lot of farmers who sell their pastured meats at Farmers Markets have trouble off-loading the organs compared to the super popular muscle meat cuts like steaks and chops. This means they will often sell you organ meats for way cheaper than their other offerings.
Another option may be finding out if you have a local butcher shop near you. Old fashioned butcher shops are coming back onto the scene of late. If you become friendly with your butcher and let them know that you are looking for organ meats, they can potentially set some aside for you.
If you are really sold on the benefits of consuming offal, but still can’t get over the texture or the thought of having to prepare the organs, then you may want to consider getting your offal in a desiccated form. There are a few companies that are making organ meat “powders” that you can purchase as encapsulated, or just straight powder. Two such companies that I would recommend due to their sourcing practices of grass-fed animals are Paleo Valley and Radiant Life. I have used desiccated liver for many years as a supplement to my diet and to support my own liver as I was healing from leaky gut (intestinal permeability). It is truly awesome stuff!