Organ meat is an untapped resource in the diet of most healthy eaters. While your grandparents and any previous generation likely grew up with liver and onion, kidney pie, and sausage stuffed organ meat, the people reading this blog for the most part have not. Now it is your job to rediscover what they were blessed to grow up eating. It might not be easy, it might take some effort, but it's worth it. Fortunately, the beauty of organ meat lies in its nutrient density – you don't have to eat it every day to get its benefits. In fact, you shouldn't be eating most of them every day.
In general, the same organ from different animals brings similar health benefits. A liver is rich in vitamin A and iron, regardless of whether it comes from cow, pork, lamb or chicken. There are some differences between the species, however, and if those differences are significant I will note this in the article.
Without further ado, let's learn about the different types of organ meat.
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Probably my favorite organ, the heart is more like extremely nutritious muscle meat than any other organ you will come across. It is very rich in vitamin B12, riboflavin, and niacin. It is rich in zinc, iron, selenium and especially CoQ10. CoQ10 is an interesting nutrient that increases the production of ATP, the body's energy currency. We can do it ourselves, but having an outside source also seems to help. For example, statin users must take CoQ10 in particular, as the drug inhibits CoQ10 production along with cholesterol synthesis. This can ward off some of the muscle damage that statin users often suffer.
Pros: The heart gives me a lot of energy. The "highest" value I have ever had when eating normal food was when a friend served me a fresh venison heart that had just been killed. It was like several espressos, only cleaner. I couldn't sit still. I could not sleep. In the end, I stayed up doing a lot of work. And then, after a few hours, I was able to sleep normally. Maybe it was the CoQ10 or maybe something else.
Cons: Hearts can be difficult to trim at times. There are many fibrous parts that can affect the eating experience.
Some people like to stew hearts for hours and treat them like meat. I prefer to cut them into strips horizontally and quickly fry them over high heat like steaks. Medium seldom, always. Either that or Peruvian style anticuchos (which I can always find here in Miami).
If you get chicken (or turkey or duck hearts), marinate them in vinegar, hot chillies, soy sauce and a little honey and grill them on a skewer over a flame or charcoal.
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I like to call the Liver-Natural Multivitamin because it's the most nutritious cut of the animal on the planet. Rich in vitamin A, iron, every B vitamin except thiamine (and it even has a decent dose of thiamine), choline, zinc, selenium and vitamin D (if the animal is a fish or grazing pig), liver
Fish liver has the added benefit of providing tons of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Poultry livers contain slightly more iron and less vitamin A than mammalian livers.
benefits: Delicious when cooked properly (to medium / medium-rare, still pink) and using a healthy liver from a freshly killed animal. Since the liver is the repository for the “animal form” of glucose – glycogen – fresh liver can be sweet. However, this sweetness disappears with increasing slaughter time.
disadvantage: Absolutely miserable if you cook it wrong. A boiled liver becomes chalky and gray, fibrous and repulsive. Once the animal is killed, the liver begins to break down its glycogen. Glycogen counteracts the inherent bitterness in the liver. When the glycogen is gone, the liver tastes bitter. This is why most people hate the liver – they have never had a fresh one properly cooked.
One of my favorite ways to cook liver is using this Terry Wahls recipe for Middle Eastern lamb liver. It works with beef or chicken too. Or try chicken liver wrapped in ham. Either way, the trick is not to over-cook it.
Another great option is to sauté ginger, garlic, and onions, add gelatinous bone broth, reduce until syrupy, and then add salt and chopped liver to cook briefly for 1-2 minutes. Makes a really rich sauce.
And if you're really adventurous, you can marinate thinly sliced beef liver in a mixture of fish sauce, sesame oil, and lemon juice and eat it raw like carpaccio. Sourcing is vital here as parasites and hepatitis are a risk if you don't cook your liver.
The kidney has a similar nutritional profile to the liver, albeit one with lower levels of vitamin A and much higher levels of selenium and riboflavin. It's slightly higher in thiamine and slightly lower in folic acid, niacin, and pyridoxine. The extreme selenium content means you probably shouldn't be eating kidneys every day, just like the retinol content means you shouldn't be eating liver every day.
benefits: The kidney is very inexpensive, can be eaten a little more often than the liver due to its lower retinol levels, and is often supplied with suet – the fat in and around the kidneys that is loaded with stearic acid. The stronger kidney flavors hold up to bolder, stronger spices and give you plenty of freedom to experiment in the kitchen.
disadvantage: The kidney can have a very unpleasant taste if not cooked properly. Liver gets a bad rap, but if you can get a fresh one and avoid overcooking it, you can usually make it tolerable and even downright delicious. The kidney needs preparation time and older animals produce stronger tasting kidneys. Lamb kidneys are usually milder and more tender than beef kidneys.
Try sauteed kidneys in red wine sauce.
Bone marrow may not feel or look like an organ, but it is. Bone marrow is an active participant in dozens of physiological processes and contains osteoblasts (which make bones), osteoclasts (which control bone resorption), and fibroblasts (which make connective tissue). It is far from being an inert biological material, which means that it has a number of beneficial micronutrients that are used to carry out these processes in the body. The thing is, the metabolic components in the bone marrow are not identified. Sure, you have some B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium among other "classic" micronutrients, but there are all sorts of other interesting things on the market that aren't listed on the USDA nutritional database.
benefits: They eat one of the "first foods" of the hominids. Before we were apex hunters, we could pick up a large rock and smash the leftover thighbones that other but less cunning predators could not use to gain access to the marrow. The taste never left us. If you eat a large spoonful of roasted bone marrow, you will feel it. It triggers something special in you.
disadvantage: The only downside I can think of is that it's not always easy to extract all of the marrow. Canoe-cut bones are cut lengthways so that you have instant access to all of the bone marrow. They are the best, but also the rarest. The more common horizontal cuts require you to fish around the cave with a spoon to get it all – and sometimes you leave something behind.
My favorite method for making bone marrow is roasting with rosemary and garlic.
Much like marrow bones, large predators often leave behind the heads of their prey. A big cat just doesn't risk cracking a tooth to crack open a skull. Risk / reward ratio too great. However, a small upright hairless monkey picks up a large rock to crack open a skull. Risk / reward ratio reversed. The brain itself of land animals is an excellent source of DHA, the omega-3 fatty acid our body and mind need to function, the omega-3 fatty acid our ancestors needed to transform into humans, that we know and love today.
benefits: Brain has a mild taste and texture that blends easily with other foods. For example, a popular dish in some parts of the world is scrambled eggs with a brain. The two are seamlessly together.
disadvantage: Prion diseases, while extremely rare, are worrying. Prions are insensitive to heat, accumulate in the brain of infected animals and can lead to rapid death and dementia in humans.
Let the whole brain simmer in salty water with aromatic herbs and spices for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove, allow to cool and fry on all sides in butter or avocado oil until crispy. A light dusting of potato starch can support the crispy shape.
The tongue is a fatty piece of meat that does not have any particular nutritional content. It is your standard "B vitamins, iron, selenium, etc., etc." lineup. But it's really, really tasty if you get it right.
benefits: The tongue is the perfect snack for a keto dieter. It is marbled rich in fat and tastes great cold cut like lunch.
disadvantage: The skin on the cow or lamb tongue is inedible and must be removed. If you do it right, the skin will slide off instantly. If you get it wrong, you'll be chopping off a hot cow's tongue for ten minutes and losing a lot of meat in the process. Perfect this process and you will be a tongue lover forever.
I love this tender beef tongue recipe.
I also love pickled beef tongue (no need for the saltpeter).
Spleen is sometimes referred to as a poor man's liver. It tastes a bit like it, but not that strong. It kind of looks like it, but not if you look closely. It is rich in iron, copper, selenium and vitamin B12. It is more sensitive than liver without retinol. In the body, the spleen filters out old red blood cells.
benefits: You can eat spleen much more frequently than liver because it contains almost no retinol while it is still nutritious. And because it is milder, the spleen can be an “entry organ” for people who want to learn to enjoy the liver and other more intense parts of the animal.
disadvantage: Spleen is hard to find. Most grocery stores just don't run it.
This Tamil dry fried goat spleen recipe looks great and I bet you could substitute beef or lamb spleen.
Lungs are a surprisingly good source of potassium, at least when it comes to meat. A 200-calorie serving of beef lung brings you almost 800 mg of potassium along with B12, iron, copper, zinc and a good amount of vitamin C.
benefits: The lungs are mild, milder than most organs, and cheap. A great way to get some protein and micronutrients.
disadvantage: Difficult to find and something to cook to make edible.
I had a fantastic lung stew once that I haven't had since, but think about it a lot. This Austrian dish sounds very similar to what I ate. You can easily leave out the flour and use other types of sauce thickening, such as bone broth or gelatin powder.
You can also simmer them in salted water for 20 to 30 minutes, let them cool, and then fry them in butter until crispy.
This is only poultry, of course (although a cow stomach would be amazing if it existed). Stomachs are one of the bird's digestive organs. Chambers where eaten pebbles help grind up the hard grains and seeds the bird has ingested for better absorption and digestion. Think of the gizzard as a kind of biological mortar and pestle that you can eat.
benefits: Delicious grilled over an open flame.
disadvantage: Only one per bird.
Treat stomachs like the chicken hearts I mentioned earlier.
As you can see, the liver, heart and marrow are the real stars of the organ show. You can eat these and none of the others and get most of the benefits. They taste the best in my opinion and offer the greatest benefit. But if you get the chance, try everything I mentioned today. We owe it to ourselves and the animals that give their lives to make the most of the cuts available. All of them. Do not know what you are missing.
I mean this literally: standard nutrition databases do not cover everything an organ meat contains. Organs like bone marrow are certainly more than the minerals and vitamins they contain. And if you believe the concept of "eat how for how" – eat liver to improve liver health, kidney to improve kidney health, heart for cardiovascular health, etc. – we should all eat anything just to be safe to go.
That's it guys. This is the guide to organ meat. What's your favorite organ meat?
About the author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Marks Daily Apple, godfather of the Primal Food and Lifestyle movement, and the New York Times best-selling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, which describes how he combines the keto diet with an original lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books, including The Primal Blueprint, which is credited with the growth of the Primal / Paleo movement in 2009. After three decades of researching and educating people about why food is the key component to achieving optimal wellbeing, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real food company, the Primal / Paleo, Keto and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples manufactures.
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