How to Eat More Organ Meats | Chris Kresser
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How to Eat More Organ Meats

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While organ meats have gotten a little more attention in the Paleo community recently, many people still don’t quite appreciate how vital it is to include these nutritional powerhouses in their regular diet. Plus, knowing we should be eating offal and actually eating these foods are two very different things. Though some people do love the taste of foods like liver, most people (myself included) don’t like the taste of organ meats and need to be persuaded to eat them.

In an effort to help you take the plunge into eating the whole animal, here are my thoughts on the top three organ meats to start out with and why.

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Beef Tongue

Because tongue is still technically muscle meat, the nutritional profile is similar to that of other beef muscle meats. It’s a good source of iron, zinc, choline, vitamin B12, other B vitamins, and trace minerals. (1) Tongue is a fatty cut of meat, with about 70% of its calories coming from fat, making it one of the most tender cuts of beef you can find.

Surprisingly, one of tongue’s biggest claims to fame is the taste. It’s also one of the easiest organ meats to cook. Once people get over the fact that it’s a tongue, they often find they like it better than other, more ‘normal’ meats! If you’re venturing into the world of organ meats for the first time, tongue is a great starting point. It will probably take a couple tries to get completely over the ‘ick’ factor (after all, it looks like a tongue), but the ease of cooking and the agreeable taste should make that process easier. Further, it should prepare you mentally for other organ meats, which can be a little harder to tackle!

Here are some tongue recipes to try:

Heart 

Once you’re comfortable eating tongue, heart can be a good next step. As with tongue, many people are pleasantly surprised when they taste heart, because despite its somewhat threatening outward appearance, its taste and texture have been compared to that of steak or brisket.

Like other red meat, heart is a good source of iron, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins, but where heart really shines is its CoQ10 content. CoQ10 is vital for energy production and prevention of oxidative stress, and people with chronic health conditions are often deficient. There are also some genetic factors that can impede the biosynthesis of CoQ10, making it more important for those people to have a source of pre-formed CoQ10 in their diet.

Heart is the best food source of CoQ10, with pork heart and beef heart topping the list at approximately 127 mcg/g and 113 mcg/g, respectively. (2) By comparison, sardines supply only about 64 mcg/g, beef liver contains 39 mcg, beef muscle meat contains 31 mcg, and pork muscle meat has anywhere from 24 to 41 mcg.

Unlike tongue, heart is extremely lean, so you want to be sure to cook it properly. One option is to grind it up and add it to ground beef. Here are some other ways to eat heart:

Liver

You didn’t think I’d write an article on organ meats without including liver, did you? While tongue and heart are both excellent choices and great introductions to organ meat consumption, liver is by far the most important organ meat you should be eating. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence, and contains many nutrients that are difficult to get elsewhere.

Liver is an important source of retinol, which is pre-formed vitamin A. Just three ounces of beef liver contains 26,973 IU of vitamin A, while pork liver and chicken liver contain 15,306 IU and 11,335 IU, respectively. (3) If you aren’t supplementing with cod liver oil, you’ll probably want to eat liver a couple times a week to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin A, especially if you have skin problems.

Folate, choline, and vitamin B12 are three more nutrients that are found abundantly in liver, and they can be especially important in the context of a Paleo diet. Two Paleo staples – muscle meat and eggs – contain a high proportion of the amino acid methionine, and higher intakes of methionine increase homocysteine production. This increases the need for vitamins B6, B12, folate, betaine, and choline, which recycle homocysteine. (4, 5)

Although all meats contain some amount of vitamin B12, liver (especially beef liver) blows everything else out of the water, with almost three times as much B12 as kidney, seven times as much as heart, and about 17 times as much as tongue or ground beef. (6) Choline is concentrated mainly in egg yolks and liver, so if you aren’t eating egg yolks it’s important to get some liver into your diet. And as Chris Masterjohn points out, it can be difficult to get enough folate on a Paleo diet without including liver, because other than liver, beans are actually one of the best sources of folate. This is especially true if you eat lots of muscle meat and not enough folate-rich greens.

One of the main nutritional differences among the livers of different animals is copper content. Beef liver contains 14.3mg of copper per 100g, while chicken and pork livers contain less than 1mg. (7) Thus, beef liver is a great choice if you tend towards a copper nutrient deficiency, but as I mentioned in this podcast, copper excess can also be a problem. Luckily the choline, zinc, and B vitamins in liver significantly reduce the risk of copper toxicity, but if you need to limit copper in your diet, you can always opt for chicken or pork liver instead.

Unfortunately, the taste of liver can take some getting used to. But even if you’re one of the unlucky people (like myself) who don’t particularly enjoy the taste, it’s possible to develop a tolerance for it, especially if you find a good recipe. You can always start out by grinding it up and adding it to ground meat, but if you’re ready for something a bit more adventurous, you can try these recipes:

Once you’ve started eating liver regularly, maybe you’ll be interested in trying other unorthodox cuts of meat and less popular parts of the animal. Mark Sisson has written before about eating heads, feet, tails, and everything in between. Perhaps you’ll give tripe a try, or attempt a kidney recipe. Maybe you’ll even get the guts to try some of the more adventurous animal parts, such as “sweetbreads” (pancreas), blood, or maybe even “oysters” (testicles). In fact, Chowstalker even has a whole list of offal recipes to get creative with. No excuses… and no fear!

Do you have any tips for people who are intimidated by organ meats? Which are your favorites, and how do you prepare them? Share your thoughts in the comments!

149 Comments

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  1. I freeze my liver then grind it, mixed in with beef and chicken. This is my base for meatballs or curry or chilli… No nasty liver taste. All the health benefits. Job done. 🙂

  2. He is a tip for perfect fried liver, assuming you eat yogurt:

    1. First cut the liver into thin strips.
    2. Soak for several hours beforehand in natural yogurt in the fridge. (I use goats yogurt).
    3. Fry up with olive oil, bacon and onions.
    4. I’ve tried this on several ‘liver haters’ and they all like my liver! The yogurt takes out the bitter taste.

  3. Thanks for the great article on organ meats. I was raised eating them, and used to make hamburgers that were 1/2 heart and 1/2 ground beef when my kids were small. I served them liver for breakfast regularly!
    I hope you will also recommend brains. They are filled with nutritional value and there is evidence that eating brains can alleviate symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. I’d appreciate your checking into this and letting us all know.

  4. If finding good sources of liver or the taste is a challenge, are capsules an option, or are there reasons not to go that route (especially if you are on a paleo autoimmune diet)? I know Nutricology makes one formulated by Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez, MD. Seems like it could be helpful for B12 issues too, but I know it’s not as ideal perhaps as eating it directly.

    • I’ve been a long time patient of Dr Gonzalez and he has told me that the liver capsules I take 6 times a day are an excellent way to get the nutrients of organically sourced liver. He also recommended in the early days of my treatment that I take an ounce or so of frozen liver a day – a much more palatable choice than regular liver.

  5. How about eating frozen raw liver chopped up into pills and take an ounce or two daily? are there any issues with that method?

  6. I have been eating liver and organs regularly (about once a week) but when my uric acid level went very high, I was advised to give them up for awhile. I’m going to go back to liver about once a month because I do miss it and I know it’s good for me. Seems a shame to cut out powerful foods.

    I’m wondering if anything else was raising the uric acid and if purines really have anything to do with it.

  7. Soak the liver in milk first. I did that and fried it up and told my hubby and son that it was steak that might have been a tad overcooked and they gobbled it down. Granted, someone who knows liver would have known the difference but they didn’t.

  8. Nice article.
    I’ve always loved eating offal , can’t remembering eating when I was in teenage years as I think my mum overcooked it (like rubber) love hearts, liver, lambs kidneys especially.
    Never thought tongue was counted as offal. It’s sooooo nice , like to slice cm thick & quickly pan fry and get fat little crisp .

    You didn’t mention how important the quality of offal to be used?
    Isit much more important to get grassfed animals oppose to factory produced?

  9. Organ meat sausages like liverwurst, braunschweiger, and head cheese can be good options. I order from US Wellness, but am also looking for a local source.

  10. Tongue is a very delicious food. Of all the organ meats, this is the one my kids are most open to. I cook it in water in a slow cooker for about 8 hours with the usual pot roast seasonings (onion, garlic, bay leaf, black peppercorns and salt). I save the broth for soup. Tongue is very cheap from my farmer. However, at the ethnic grocery store where they do their own butchery, it is quite expensive. The immigrant customers know the value of this cut and it is priced accordingly.

    I have tried to serve heart a few different ways. It tastes like a cross between steak and liver. The easiest way to serve beef heart to my family is hidden in beef stew. My recipe is here: http://formlesssubstance.blogspot.com/2011/02/have-heart-for-valentines-day.html. The trick is to cut it into very small pieces and mix it 50/50 with stew meat.

    It is really important to serve liver to your kids early. I grew up eating it. My mother treated it as just another meal. I even order it in restaurants. I wish I had been more intentional when my kids were babies. My kids are less enthusiastic, but I have to believe that watching me enjoy it should help. I always make the rest of the meal very special. I get out the pastured bacon and grass fed, raw ice cream for dessert. It’s not my husband’s favorite but he eats it without comment. One good way to serve liver is in Dirty Rice. Chicken livers are one of the main ingredients.

    I was hoping to see other organ meats covered in this article. I have never tried kidneys, for example. I tried a pigs feet recipe from a Paleo cookbook and I loved them. My farmer says their slaughterhouse won’t give them the pigs feet and other organs. I think the slaughterhouse is selling them and making a profit. I can get anything from the local ethic grocery. I assume the ethnic grocery uses factory meat, which makes them less attractive to me. I’m really disappointed I can’t get these cuts from my farmer. I do buy their organ meats for my dog. I came up with a crazy recipe. Maybe it’s too much work for a dog but it makes me happy. The pigs feet package has 8 feet which have been quartered.
    Dog Jello
    8 pigs feet.
    1 pork liver
    3 pork hearts

    Cook pigs feet overnight in water in slow cooker.
    In the morning, put liver and hearts in small amount of water. Simmer on stove for an hour.
    Strain and separate the pigs feet from the bones. Keep the broth in a large mixing bowl. Put the separated pigs feet in food processor in batches. Watch out for tiny bones, it’s hard to find them all. Once pureed, pour into broth.
    When heart and liver are cooked, put them in food processor in batches and add that to bowl of broth.
    Ladle into containers and put into the fridge. The broth from the pigs feet will gel the whole thing.

    My German Shepherd gets about 1.5 cups of this as a meal. She gets another meal of raw chicken.

    I also cook the pigs feet bones again with other pork bones. I told my mother this and she wanted to know why the dog gets the first broth. LOL

  11. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for this article. I have a few recipes for chicken livers, as pate and whole. Please see below. Also, as soon as I can, I’ll be sharing recipes for blood and kidneys (traditional Spanish recipes!). 😉

    Enjoy:
    http://thesaffrongirl.com/chicken-livers-with-apples-strawberry-coulis-tapas/
    http://thesaffrongirl.com/chicken-liver-with-sage/
    http://thesaffrongirl.com/homemade-pate-gluten-dairy-free/
    http://thesaffrongirl.com/dairy-free-chicken-liver-pate/

  12. Thanks for another excellent post, Chris.

    My daughter, who is mostly recovered from rheumatoid arthritis, eats raw beef liver. We freeze it, chop up a lobe, and she swallows it with raw milk. When she was in early stages of healing – and having a herxheimer reaction (which occurred every 2 weeks or so) we would have her eat one lobe of beef liver every 2-3 days, staying below 4 oz. per week.

    I am not able to get the rest of my family on board with eating organ meats. Perhaps if they get sick some day, my children will remember the power of raw milk and liver in healing their sister. However, I do get them to eat shellfish – lobster, mussels, crab, clams – and I read on cheeseslave that the important nutrients can be gained eating an animal head-to-tail, and since mussels and clams are contained in the shell, the nutrient profile should be as comprehensive as eating land animal organ meats. Is this true? I hope so since I don’t have to fight to get my kids to eat these foods.

    • I was reading about seafood over at Whole9, and they said that not only do you not have to worry about bivalves being fed inappropriate feed (since they’re filter feeders), but they are the most nutrient-dense seafood you can eat. I do know you don’t do anything to remove internal organs before you cook them, though so yeah–you’re getting the whole animal.

  13. While I’m not very fond of the taste of plain liver, I love liverwurst! I only buy high-quality, grass-fed liverwurst, of course. I like it so much, I have to ration my servings. I only allow myself 1/2 pound per week. It’s maybe 40% liver/60% beef, so that works out to about 1 generous serving of liver each week.

    My next favorite organ is heart. I just crock pot them, divide the cooked hearts into individual servings, and freeze them. Then I have ready-to-eat meat. I love the flavor! I pretty much clean out our farmer’s market of grass-fed hearts (pig/beef) whenever I go there. Fortunately, in my area the price per pound for hearts is only about 1/2 of muscle meats.

    I also crock pot beef tongue. For some reason, I’m not as fond of that organ (texture issues, I think). So, I just finely chop up the cooked tongue, divide that up into 1/2 cup servings or so, and freeze it. Then, I just defrost it to mix into stir-fries, stews, or other meals that already have some beef muscle meat included. Then I rarely notice the difference.

    • Debra,

      Where do you purchase properly sourced liverwurst? I’m looking for a source other than US Wellness. Thanks!

    • I’m the same!! I grew up eating liverwurst – all my friends made fun of me – and I love it. But I can’t *stand* the texture of plain old liver. Ick!

      I grind liver up in the food processor and mix it with ground beef. Then I make a beef bourignon style stew thing – the tomato sauce, onion, garlic, red wine, etc. mutes the flavor, it just gives a lovely depth to the stew. Every time I eat it, the people sitting with me ask me what delicious smelling thing I’m eating!

    • so sad. I would wonder about it, tho’ and look for a second or third opinion from someone with different training. like an accupuncuturist or naturopath….

  14. Do not go near them unless they are 100% organic. The organs are most likely to be most contaminated by any non-natural ingredients used in the life of the animal.

  15. I can understand why people shy away from organ meats, especially if they haven’t grown up eating them and then suddenly want to try an incorporate them into their diet. I grew up eating organ meats, my mum used to send us to school with sheep’s brain sandwiches or beef tongue and we would eat liver at least once or twice a week. I didn’t LOVE the taste of organ meats growing up but I slowly adjusted to them and now I aim to incorporate them at least once a week into my diet.

    I find lamb liver to be much milder tasting than beef, so I usually have that or chicken liver. I usually just cook it up simply in some butter, season with S&P and a bit of red pepper flakes and squeeze some lemon juice on top. You can always grind up the liver and mix it into mince meat and use it that way.

    • I just bought lamb heart for the first time and really enjoyed it. I found it much tastier than beef heart as I fried it (after boiling it) in coconut oil and spices.

    • I totally agree on the lamb liver. After trying pork, beef and goose liver, I found that lamb is by far the best tasting.
      Also, I add lemon juice as suggested by Chris Masterjohn.

  16. i like liver, but I would like to know if there are downsides to it. I can´t buy organic liver and since the liver deals with toxins, is there any chance of it having a negative impact too.

    • I would like to know this too. I would think organs (especially liver) would contain much more of the toxins that the animals are exposed to compared to the muscles. So my logic would be buying organic organ meats would be important but would like to know your opinion.

    • Christ wrote in this post: http://chriskresser.com/natures-most-potent-superfood

      “A popular objection to eating liver is the belief that the liver is a storage organ for toxins in the body. While it is true that one of the liver’s role is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons), it does not store these toxins. Toxins the body cannot eliminate are likely to accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues and nervous systems. On the other hand, the liver is a is a storage organ for many important nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron). These nutrients provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins.”

    • Liver breaks down toxins. It’s an organ too, and if it just held the toxins, eventually it would get poisoned and die. Whatever might have been left over when the animal died, your own liver will handle just fine.

      Different traditional cultures have different values about which organs are best to eat, but I have yet to hear of a traditional culture that wouldn’t touch liver. In fact it usually holds a special and sacred place within the community’s cuisine.

    • If you can order online, you can get excellent liver from US Wellness Meats. We’ve eaten their liver for years.

    • I have not tried liver before, but in my opinion, I would only eat liver if it is organic and even then consider occasionally doing a liver cleanse. People have gotten serious health problems from certain types of drugs used on livestock that are stored in the liver. Make sure you know how the animal was raised and what drugs and added hormones could have (preferably not) been used on it.

  17. fortunately for me I was born and raised in Eastern Europe. eating organ meets it is such a natural way that I don’t hink I have tips on how to start eating them. It’s an aquired taste but maybe the simple fact that they are so healthy and tasty it should help you get over the ick factor.
    chicken liver pate was and still is a common dish in my family , weston price recipe is used now for feeding my baby.
    recipe for beef heart: slice it, boil it, skim the foam and boil another 15 min, let it cool and peel the white coat, boil it some more if u think it’s not tender enough , then you can put the slices in the oven for a couple of minutes with favourite dry herbs , salt and pepper sprinkled on top. just use it as is in sandwiches. works great with horseradish.

    • Yes I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a European country with a strong traditional food culture. My mum cooked lambs brains for us as children because”it makes children more intelligent” 🙂 also I had liver pate sandwish for a snack coming home from school. we used to fight over the liver whenever my mum cooked rabbit Stew! One of the best dish I have every had was beef tongue Luculus (liver pate layered with tongue) chicken liver salad is a delicacy and I find it hard to believe that people don’t like it! I mean even just chicken liver pate on toast with onion jam, how can you resist?! 🙂

    • I take beef heart & cut & cook it like i would a steak yummy & it;s so much more tender this way,I;m all for it being rare ,so good

    • Thank you for the recipe. I am very allergic to the allium family-onions, garlic, asparagus, and such. Finding recipes without onions and garlic for offal has been a challenge.

  18. I have 2 great ways of cooking chicken liver (or you could use beef liver):
    1. I use chicken liver in making meat loaf; I usually use 1 lb of chicken liver + 2 lbs of ground beef. Even my teenage son ate it – the ground beef plus other ingredients covers up the taste of the liver.
    1. I cook bacon or sausage, then saute onions, mushrooms, and tart apples, then mix all of this with cooked chicken livers – the flavors mixed together are great – my husband loves this!

    • I will be trying this recipe, as I was worried about cooking it now I feel better. Thanks for this recipe.

    • What a great idea, I will be trying both of your suggestions, Maxine! Thank you so much for sharing 😀

    • The 3 biggest keys to making anything more palatable are bacon, butter, and salt. It’s almost like cheating.

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