Early humans always hunted and ate meat. It’s still custom for tribes to consume every edible part of the animal and even find uses for the parts that weren’t in order to survive. Unfortunately, most people aren’t too pleased with the thought of eating the “foreign” parts of an animal. It’s a shame that we've switched to mostly muscle when organs are nutrient-dense, and these vitamins and minerals can help strengthen the immune system or fight off diseases.
Tribes who still partake in hunter-gatherer diets are healthy and strong – without the need for supplements or enriched products that are also high in carbohydrates. We could learn a lot from our early ancestors, especially when it comes to diet and living organically. Today, chain grocery stores carry what most people would expect to find: chicken, steak, ground beef, pork loins, etc. Sometimes, depending on where you go, you'll find bone marrow and chicken liver. But if you go to Target or Wal-Mart expecting to find offal like hearts or cow liver, you'll probably find yourself out of luck (well, besides in sausages).
What's more, we never really ask where other parts of the animal go in the U.S. What most people don’t know is that the U.S. is a large exporter of animal organs, since organs are typically unwanted by Americans. There’s quite a stigma against offal; it used to be a belief that only poor people consumed it. And with decades of the Standard American Diet consisting of mostly just the muscle and fat of the animal, it makes sense why most people would know little of the benefits and preparation of organs.
So to make your food go further and reduce food waste, let’s talk about common organ meats and their nutritional value so you’ll be more educated on how to include them in your diet.
This organ has a very unique flavor. Some like it, others don't – especially most people who didn't grow up incorporating liver into their diets. Chicken liver is easier for most beginners to start with. As for preparation, one of the most popular recipes you'll find is liver and onions: seasoned, flour-coated, and pan-seared livers cooked with onions.
The liver is one of the most nutrient-dense parts of the animal.
The liver is one of the most nutrient-dense parts of the animal. This organ has cells that have an important function in breaking down digested proteins and enzymes. The blood supply gets filtered by the liver to remove any toxins after digestion. It’s high in Vitamin A (which is helpful for improving your body’s defenses, among many other things), iron, folic acid, zinc, riboflavin and other B vitamins, and more. For a typical serving (about 589 grams) of cow liver, there’s 349.28 ug of Vitamin B12, a vitamin that 40% of Americans are deficient in.
The heart is probably one of the easier organs to eat for beginners. Since it’s a muscle, the taste and texture will be familiar to most. However, because the role of the heart is to pump blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the rest of the body, some people may be turned off by the taste of iron that the heart naturally has. An easy way to fix this is to soak it in saltwater or milk overnight.
One of the quickest ways to prepare the heart is to cook it the way you would normally cook a steak: pan-seared or grilled. While it’s somewhat similar to the common parts of the animals that we usually eat, the heart actually contains more protein. It’s also a rich source of nutrients like folate, thiamine, zinc, CoQ10, selenium, and B vitamins. CoQ10 has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant in improving heart health and other diseases.
This organ, also known as tripe, is the muscle lining of an animal's stomach. It’s prepared in many soups, stews, braised dishes, and even tacos. Luckily, this organ has more of a neutral and bland taste so the flavor will mostly be found in the broth or stew that it's in. Tripe can also be found in andouille sausages.
Tripe has a blander taste and can be prepared in soups and even tacos.
It’s surprisingly not too difficult to find tripe compared to the other offal; you can usually get lucky if you seek out ethnic restaurants that specialize in soups or stews. Tripe is an excellent source of many nutrients including iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and selenium.
If you live in the southern parts of the U.S., you've probably heard of chitlins (or chitterlings). Chitlins is typically pig intestines but any animal can be used. As for preparation – well, it can be a bit much for some with the smell and all – but it's definitely not too difficult to handle. The intestines must be rinsed out with cold water and soaked until it's clear. When the intestines are fully cleaned out, you can boil them in a pot of water with cinnamon to get rid of the smell. As for the texture, it could be a challenge if you're not a fan of chewy parts! Intestines are a good source of vitamin B12, phosphorus, and zinc.
Animal kidneys need to be soaked before cooking as they may have a urine taste and smell. This makes sense, of course, since the role of the kidneys is to remove wastes and fluids from the body. Boiling them before adding them to dishes also gets rid of impurities.
Kidneys need to be soaked and boiled before adding to dishes.
The kidney can be cooked in many different ways, and when it’s cooked in broth, the flavor becomes milder and less pungent. The kidney is very beneficial as it contains many nutrients, including a rare amino acid called acid ergothioneine, which shows promise as a treatment for preeclampsia. It’s also high in riboflavin, vitamin A, B vitamins, iron, selenium, and more.
Other Benefits of Eating Organ Meats:
Lower risk of Alzheimer’s
Helps with cardiovascular diseases
Prevents mineral and vitamin deficiencies
Where To Find Organ Meats
It may seem difficult to find organ meats, but it’s easier than one may think! Most cities have a farmer’s market at least once a week, where farmers tend to be. Many sell liver and some sell heart as well. Halal grocery stores sometimes have a butcher where you can request organs. Asian stores typically have chicken liver and hearts, tripe, and intestines. Lastly, one of the benefits of modern living is you can support farmers without being in person. There are many websites where you can order organs and grass-fed meat.
In this day and age, when it’s become common to only consume the foods that we’re familiar with, it’s important sometimes to branch out and experiment, especially when the Standard American Diet has caused some mineral and nutrient deficiencies in some people. You may just find offal beneficial in improving your energy levels and overall health. The best part is you don’t need to consume it daily as it’s so nutrient-dense. Another added benefit to eating organs is you’re paying less to be healthy.
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