Whole animal eating is experiencing a resurgence among discerning chefs and amateur epicureans alike, which means organ meats are showing up on more restaurant menus and dining room tables.
However, organ meat consumption is not new. A standard food practice throughout most of human history, some organ meats were (and still are) considered to be delicacies.
Think about haggis, the traditional Scottish dish made from sheep organs.
Or parrilladas, opulent Argentinian meat platters featuring grilled blood sausages peppered with cumin, sweetbreads (pancreas), kidneys and pickled tongue.
And of course, the French have given us pâté.
What exactly is whole animal eating?
Whole animal eating refers to the use of the entire animal.
Chefs like Chris Cosentino, Greg Daniels, Anya Fernald, Irene Li, and Jamie Bissonnette have helped to champion the snout-to-tail approach to animal consumption for the many benefits it provides:
- A vibrant flavor profile
- Significant nutritional benefits
- Responsible environmental stewardship by reducing waste, which in turn lessens the burden on the infrastructure resources required to manage food waste.
For us here at Grass Roots Farmers Co-op, whole animal eating reflects one of our most strongly-held beliefs about food:
Work with Nature - not against it.
This is why our farmers practice regenerative agriculture. These “do no harm” farming and grazing practices provide a host of ecological benefits such as:
- rehabilitating soil biodiversity, which improves water retention in the soul and leads to carbon drawdown
- improving soil quality in turn supports the production of high quality, nutrient dense grasses for animals to graze on
Whole animal eating dovetails well with regenerative agriculture because both practices are rooted in the desire to be responsible and respectful of the land, its animals, and the food source they provide.
Whole animal eating is what it looks like to maintain a healthy relationship with eating meat.
In this exploration of all things organ meats, we’ll cover:
- What are organ meats?
- How have attitudes about organ meats changed?
- Are organ meats really good for you?
- Why is it important to choose grass-fed organ meats?
- Which organ meats are healthiest?
- Are organ meats tasty? What about texture?
- How should you prepare organ meats
What are organ meats?
Organ meat is a catch-all phrase for anything other than muscle meat. This means that the term can be used to refer to actual organs like the liver and kidneys, but also an animal’s blood, bones and skin.
The most common sources of organ meats are chickens, lambs, pigs, cows, and goats. The most commonly consumed organs are:
- Thymus (sweetbreads)
How have attitudes about organ meats changed?
Despite being globally appreciated, organ meats have had a complicated journey into American kitchens.
In response to muscle meat shortages during World War II, American cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, was asked to chair the Committee on Food Habits in order to understand why so many Americans were resisting organ meats, and then devise a plan for making animal hearts, livers, and kidneys a part of the mainstream American diet.
Mead’s research showed that most Americans overlooked organ meats because of the perception that consuming them reflected a lower socioeconomic status. A lack of familiarity and education on how to prepare organ meats was also a barrier.
Over time, social taboos connected to organ meats have lessened due to increased education, the emergence of the whole animal eating movement, and a strong advocacy from the paleo and keto communities.
From Michelin chefs to that diligent home cook on your local PTA board, more and more Americans are seeing organ meats for what they are: nutritional powerhouses that bring refreshing flavor diversity to any table.
Are organ meats really good for you?
The nutritional content of each organ varies, but most are high in B vitamins like B12 and folate. They're also rich in minerals like iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc, as well as fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
And if you lean towards a protein-rich diet like paleo or keto, organ meats are your new best friend. Organ meat is an excellent protein source, providing all nine essential amino acids.
Some of the primary benefits of eating organ meat include:
- Great source of iron
Organ meats are an excellent source of bioavailable heme iron. This is significant considering that over 10 million Americans are iron deficient, with half of those experiencing iron deficiency anemia.
- Feel fuller for longer
Organ meats are high in protein. Several studies have proven that high-protein diets can reduce cravings and increase satiety (the feeling of satisfaction or fullness).
- Excellent source of choline
Organ meat is also one of the best sources of choline; an essential nutrient for brain, muscle and liver health that many people are deficient in.
Why is it important to choose grass-fed organ meats?
We prefer grass-fed organ meats for the same reason that we prefer grass-fed beef. Quality.
Cows are ruminants, so grazing on grasses, weeds, and other fibrous forages is their most natural state. By extension, this means that cows are meant to spend most of their lives outdoors. Fresh air, sunshine, and wide open spaces.
When cows are allowed to graze in this way, their meat has a higher volume of bioavailable nutrients and healthy fats. Pastured, grass-fed beef is reported to have multiple cardiovascular benefits like:
- Lower total fat content
- More heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
- More omega-6 fatty acid (linolenic acid)
- More antioxidants, such as vitamin E
In addition to the nutritiousness of the meat, some grass-fed farming operations are known to employ a few other conscientious ethical and environmental practices.
For example, every Grass Roots animal is born, raised and harvested in the USA. They graze on natural, non-GMO pasture and are never treated with hormones or antibiotics. Our cattle are grass-fed, grass-finished, and never eat grain or grain by-products.
We practice regenerative farming that fosters a diversity of plants, uses no-till methods, and incorporates grazing animals to restore the soil and respect the animals. Our farms and processing facilities are on par with organic standards and support the economic growth of rural communities.
All the cutting edge environmental science confirms what our co-op of farmers see in their fields every day:
Regenerative agriculture is the most sustainable way to produce high quality food.
Which organ meats are healthiest?
Each organ provides a distinct nutrient profile that will interact with each person’s body differently. Especially if you have a pre-existing health condition like gout or high cholesterol, we recommend discussing your organ meat consumption with a licensed medical professional.
Here are some of the most commonly-cited health benefits of several organ meats:
Liver has the highest nutrient density of all organ meats. In addition to being a good source of vitamin A, it also contains folic acid and iron, which is known to increase blood hemoglobin.
Full of nutrients and proteins, studies have shown that kidney meat contains omega 3 fatty acids and other anti-inflammatory properties.
Viewed as a delicacy in many cultures, brain meat is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients like phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine.
Heart meat is a great source of CoQ10, an antioxidant that’s been shown to prevent heart disease. It’s also rich in folate, iron, zinc, selenium, and the B-complex vitamins.
Though technically a muscle meat, tongue is often categorized with organ meats. A complete protein, cow tongue meat is rich in fatty acids, zinc, iron, choline, and vitamin B12.
Are organ meats tasty? What about texture?
Of course, taste is relative. Each person’s palate is uniquely theirs, so the best way to answer this question is to select a quality source of organ meat, find a good recipe and give it a try.
Having said that, here’s some guidance on the tastes and textures you can expect when eating organ meats:
With a high fat content, tongue is one of the most tender cuts of beef. In particular, tongue’s extra soft texture is frequently compared to very tender shredded beef.
Unlike tongue, heart meat is extremely lean. The chewy texture is balanced by a sweet and slightly metallic flavor. Chicken heart meat is often compared to dark chicken meat.
Liver’s reputation for having a strong, earthy flavor is well earned. Many recipes suggest soaking it in milk before cooking, which helps to taper off the intensity and allow the liver to better complement the other ingredients it’s being combined with. The texture is smooth, almost creamy, which is why whole or ground liver works well when blended into stews, soups, and Italian tomato sauces or gravies for extra flavor and richness.
How should you prepare organ meats?
Each organ offers a wide range of preparation options – baking, sauteing, and pan-frying are three of the most common.
Regardless of which cooking method you choose, the preparation process is very similar to cooking any other meat. Typically, the organ meat is cut into smaller cubes or slices and seasoned well before being transferred to your pot or pan.
To get you started, here are 3 of our favorite organ meats recipes:
This keto chicken liver pâté will be the star of your next charcuterie board, or an everyday staple you keep in the fridge to use as a dip or sandwich spread. Enjoy!
Enjoy not one but three ways to prepare flavorful chicken hearts, including yakitori from Japan and madeira from our friends in Brazil.
Loved by the Whole30 and paleo community, this AIP-friendly chicken liver saute balances the savory notes of garlic and onions with the brightness of lemon and smooth olive oil.
Closing thoughts on organ meats…
Grass-fed organ meats offer a broad range of health benefits alongside a depth of flavor that sophisticated palates and fussy eaters alike will appreciate.
Eating organs, such as grass-fed beef organs, makes you part of the whole animal eating movement - an ecologically-sustainable approach to nourishment. It’s good for you, good for the animals, good for the planet.
This cozy and comforting Paleo chili recipe is filled with ground meat and a ton of veggies to keep you full and satisfied. It’s a Whole30-friendly chili and AIP-compliant, too, with no tomatoes and no beans.
For ground meats: I recommend bison, pork, or beef or a mix! (I used bison and pork).