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 have had good liver, and bad liver. And when you’ve had bad liver . . . well, that does it for a long, long time. I read this article recently about getting your liver in by freezing it slightly, cutting it up in small “pills”, storing in the freezer and popping a few each day. It states that when the meat is frozen for a minimum of 14 days, parasites and other pathogens are eliminated. Here is the link:

    http://www.primallyinspired.com/friday-favorites-frozen-raw-liver-pills/?utm_source=Stupid+Easy+Paleo+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=2fc33dbe17-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_17b647d8a0-2fc33dbe17-41782973

    • ^^ shows the effect of increased CO2 levels in body at high altitudes; not the effect of a “vegetarian diet” – whatever that means in particular.

    • Yeah don’t eat organ meats from conventionally raised livestock. They get fed a whole lot of weird additives, medicines, and I don’t know what. Organ meats from them would probably not be a good idea to consume regularly. In particular not their livers.

      Grass-fed, organic certified, disease-free quality livestock is what we need.

  2. Organ meats sound great but Vitamin A is very problematic – even lethal in high doses. I find it quite suspect that the author encourages excess liver consumption for the express purpose of “getting enough vitamin A” without warning readers of the real concern of over-consumption. Google it, there’s plenty of info out there. 3 oz. of Polar bear liver has enough vitamin A to kill a man. Beef liver is much less, but still…over the course of months or years this can cause problems, especially when we often think that more of a good thing must be even better and really chow down.
    That said, rabbit and chicken liver are supposed to be the least vitamin A rich, and the other nutrients are still very useful – I’m ordering a 5 kg package of frozen chicken liver and frozen chicken hearts from a local organic farm- I’ve got a freezer.

    • I want to give my thoughts on Vit A. The recommended daily allowance is 5000 IU. A medium carrot has 10, 191 IUs or more, depending on your source. That will not kill you. Most people would eat a carrot and not think twice. In fact, I researched this years ago, so please don’t ask me for a reference, however, an average person would have to ingest 50,000 – 100,000 IUs a day for two years to get symptoms.

      • Carotenoids are not vitamin A, there is no retinol in a carrot. And conversion depends on the individual

    • Chris Masterjohn addresses this problem. By his highly skilled logic, vitamin A is only ever a problem in vitamin D deficient scenarios.

  3. Good article, over all, but you could eliminate the word beef and you would come out further ahead. There is no need to specify beef tongue or beef heart, etc. Pork, lamb, etc all work just as well in all these ways.

    • Commercial pork is high in pufa, has far less A, far less B12 and other B vitamins, far less copper, far more iron. Iron reacts with pufa. I’ll stick with beef. These things will vary if you raise your own of course, depending on what you feed them.

  4. Looks like everybody agrees with each other – no debate here.
    Here’s a chink in the horrific armor that organ meat consumers may or may not be aware they are cloaked in: despite all the hype, and believe it or not, YOU CAN LIVE – AND LIVE QUITE WELL – WITHOUT CONSUMING THESE PRODUCTS OF CRUELTY.
    Where might discussion be found as to fear and terror-related toxins that do indeed find their way into organs as the hapless animal is led to, and summarily slaughtered?

    I haven’t touched any of these gristly, grisly “foods” in over 30 years, haven’t looked back, and am not missing out on a damn thing! It’s tough to eat anything when you are RETCHING uncontrollably.

    Call me a Luddite, but plant-based nutrient powerhouses are the way to go for this farmboy!
    I still climb trees, and can do 6 honest chinups several times a day at age 58. Vegetarian since Jan 1st, 1991, but won’t brag on it or preach it.
    It’s a free country; you eat what you raise. Just don’t tell ME I NEED to gouge another animal’s grotesque organs to feed my greedy face.

    • From what I understand, you have to be extremely careful when you go vegetarian due to essential fats and essential proteins of which you have no problem getting from animal food products. I’ve been doing plenty of reading about human nutrition and our digestive system. Our colon is a lot shorter than other primates and is not design to break down vegetation. Typically, vegetation needs to be broken down to get the nutrition via cooking. For instance, tomatoes need to be cooked to make them more nutritious. Plus, going vegetarian does not mean you are getting away from chemicals and hormones. Thanks to Monsanto, you have to worry about GMOs in vegetables even if it is organic due to cross breeding. Sorry, but I will eat my meat and you will not find a true vegetarian primitive tribe even though you might have the healthy conscious you might be doing something right.

    • Hello, I totally get what Davey H is speaking of, and he has many facts straight. Conventionally raised and slaughtered animals do indeed go through horrific treatment. Dave, you might have come from a gene pool that can be more healthy not eating meats, etc. I, for the same reasons as you, was a total vegetarian for many years, combining the right foods for protein, etc etc. I also became severely depleted in some areas after a few years. As soon as I added quality animal protein (as little as 2 oz at a meal, or broth, 2-3 times per week), my body started rebuilding and became strong again. the key for me is that I know the source of the animal, know how it was treated and how it was killed (with respect, gratitude and honor). The contamination and terror you speak of is absent when the animal is communicated with and thanked for its service. My point is, I honor your commitment to the animals, and wish I could do what you do, but if I am not strong, how can I advocate for better conditions for all animals? I don’t feel justified in judging anyone for the way they eat. It is between them and their conscience what choices they make. Please remember your right to eat the way you choose should not infringe on how others decide they need to eat to be healthy. Everyone has a different body and different needs. I am so happy that you can stay as healthy as you do eating with your conscience for animals. Peace

      • My sentiments exactly! The science of metabolic typing shows that SOME people can be healthy on a vegetarian based diet, but others cannot and shouldn’t try. I think ALL OF US, no matter how we eat, need to respect the animals on this planet. And if we eat meat, we need to vote with our dollars on how we would like animals treated: Don’t buy factory-farmed meat from the stores or restaurants. Support farmers who provide a healthy environment for their animals, AND take them to humanely- designed slaughter houses.

    • I was veg from 13 to 26.

      I have severe gastro issues, food allergies, various autoimmune diseases and hypothyroid?

      My emotional sensitivity also calmed down when I started eating meat again.

      Some people cannot digest beans.

      His holiness the Dalai Lama, who I spent my happiest 4 hours on a small plane near, eats meat. His doctor told him he needs to.

      Plants are sentient too.

      There was still a holier than and judgy thing in saying you don’t need to. Every body is different.

      It hurts me to do but m t of us here are trying to the best we can.

      And honestly, we all die or slowly kill ourselves giving to others. Hopefully. 🙂 it’s thd cycle of life. It can be done with respect and reverence and skill and temperance.

      • I totally agree…I have suffered tremendously with serious adrenal issues and pots…and I have tried EVERYTHING…under the sun to fix my issues for ten years now…I would love to be vegetarian and not kill animals…I am an animal lover and I am very sensitive…so much so that I am probably an idiot because I help lizards out of my window so they don’t die….but anyway…my point is, I can’t do it, I feel horrible and even worse every time…sure at first for a week or a few days I feel good like doing a mild clean out…a fast but it doesn’t ever last. I literally feel like my body is starving and eating itself…and yes I’ve read books and consulted with the best nutritionists, vegetarians and other doctors etc you name it…it doesn’t work for everyone. I have to live and survive first to raise my ten year old.

        • +tammy georgine.
          thats why real men go out hunting and do the killing, then present it to their excellent chef wives to prepare.
          I’m glad you don’t eat lizards but why send them out when they’re eating all the pests in your house

    • Read this article: “4 Reasons Why Some People Do Well as Vegans (While Others Fail Miserably)” By Denise Minger
      This is the most intelligent, reasonable article I have ever read on why not everyone can be healthy as a vegan. It’s not a matter of will-power. It depends on your biochemical make-up. The brain requires cholesterol and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids like DHA which only occur in animal products (and a few sea weeds).
      Being vegan is great if you happen to be born with a perfectly functioning metabolism that can convert, for instance, the short chain omega-3 fats found in plants into the long chain EPA and DHA needed by the heart and brain.

      Some people, especially those with type O blood (half of the population), are unable to convert the short-chain omega-3 found in plants into DHA, as well as EPA, needed by the heart. Many well-meaning people try to be vegetarian or vegan, only to find that they become sick, weak and have trouble thinking.

      Other people, especially blood type A and AB (40% of the pop) thrive on a vegetarian diet. There is no vitamin D in a vegan diet, however they could get it by spending a lot of time in the sun! Also no vitamin B12, needed to prevent nerve degeneration and anemia.
      There are no primitive people who lived on a totally vegetarian diet, according to the research of Dr Weston Price, a dentist who traveled the world in the 1930’s, documenting the diet and health of people on their native diets. He found that people still eating their native diet, which always included some animal products, were very healthy and had perfect teeth, while the same people, after being contacted by Europeans, and eating the white man’s white food: white bread, sugar, rice, became sick, stunted and had rapid tooth decay. (see Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.)

      It is certainly true that the wild game eaten by Paleolithic hunters and Native Americans, accompanied by a lot of exercise catching it, had nothing in common with today’s high fat supermarket meat, laden with pesticides, synthetic hormones, and fed on genetically modified grain. Cows shouldn’t be eating grain or corn anyway – they are meant to eat grass. Those who eat meat and dairy should choose organic, grass-fed products. It is also true that a mostly plant based diet is better for the earth than meat fed on corn grown by fossil fuel-based mechanized agribusiness using chemical fertilizer and pesticides and GM seed from MonSatan.
      We should eat a diet high in organic fruits and vegetables, with as much of clean, naturally raised animal products as we individually need to be healthy.

  5. I feel lucky that I grew up in USA with a mom and dad who fed me all sorts of food and encouraged me to explore new ones. I grew up eating calf brains, pigs feet, all organ meats, eel and all seafoods and fresh fish eggs and every fruit or veg or wild plant or weed..any culture’s food was adopted if it was connected to our planet. I also grew up cooking from scratch. I stopped eating organ meats along with all other factory farmed meat but would eat humanely raised organ meats again. I just boil and add salt and pepper. Simple and good.

  6. Beef Liver, I am able to purchase already ground beef liver I sauté onions and pepper in a cast iron skillet with some fat – beef tallow or coconut oil and then add ground beef liver with cumin powder, garlic powder and sea salt, the cumin helps with the smell and the vegetables blend nicely.

  7. Thanks for this Chris! We’re already big fans of offal here in Australia and where we are on the Sunshine Coast we’re lucky to have many local farmers producing beautiful grass-fed biodynamic meat which is great. We have beef tongue in the slow cooker right now! Always have beef heart and liver in the freezer too. I’ve been eating more beef liver to naturally boost my B vitamin levels, and looking forward to seeing the latest results soon. This is a great article to share with our paleo meetup group members and Clint’s clients, so thanks heaps! Aime 🙂

    • Aimee & Clint: Excellent points.
      I came back to organ meats because of Nora Gedgaudas’s and Chris Kresser’s recommendations to limit or not overuse protein-about the only thing gov’t food guidelines get right. About the right amount seems to be 170g/6oz (equivalent to 7 medium size eggs a day) which I split up over two meals, unless I work out and a third small meal might be in order. I figured that with this small amount of protein I had better not waste it so Liver, heart, tongue, Pink Salmon and egg yolks have become my super protein-foods. I do so want to try brain but that is a gruesome beast to tackle, yet.

      This food thing is ongoing learning I am finding over my life time. I believe I am now in the tinkering final end game having travelled from (but not necessarily dropping all features of) Adelle Davis to Atkins high protein to Diamond food combining, D’Adamo Blood typing, Taubes’ assurances, Paleo low-protein hi-fat, Gedgaudas’ & other’s science.

      One of the other most important lessons I have learned is to listen to one’s body. From childhood I knew I did not like milk, oranges, strawberries and bread. They smelled bad and milk would only be taken if adulterated with chocolate and bread if it was buttered but never the other two unless really hungry as they hurt my ‘tummy’. Strangely, I loved lemons and limes which I have come to learn that, though acidic, somehow become alkaline in the stomach.

      We all must make the leap from earth’s gravity and join the stars. Only then can we shed the bugaboos that infuriate our dreams. I no longer crave chocolate, ice cream and nuts, and their indulgence is rare to hit the crave stage which has been a fifty year journey.

      This is my final lesson that has earned me my wings. Dining is not my entertainment. I find no joy in comfort foods and ritual celebrations. And that lesson earns me my halo. 🙂

      Namaste and care,
      from our northern Sunshine Coast (soon to be home) to yours,
      mhikl

      • Do you seriously believe that there are 24g of protein in one egg?

        I don’t like to throw pejoratives around, but the mind boggles at some of the idiotic things people buy into.

  8. If DAO enzyme supplements for histamine intolerance, are made from pork kidneys…would eating pork kidneys be beneficial for increase DAO production, and if so, in what quantities?

  9. Try looking up European recipes for all organs, for us organs are a delicacy and expensive to buy. 🙂

  10. Would love to obtain thyroid glands and make my own meds (as synthetic meds do the opposite of what they are supposed to) but where in the UK can they be obtained from?

  11. Afifah,

    I’ve just been checking out B12 and Gout and B12 and TMJ. Many, many people say that B12 supplements helped and oftentimes cured their TMJ.
    Gout is more mixed. Some people say that it helped or cured their Gout, but there are articles saying that it may raise uric acid levels.
    I would personally take the sublingual METHYlcobalamin supplement (not CYANOcobalamin), and keep track of how bad the gout is.
    It seems that Folic Acid is another supplement that should be taken as well.

  12. Hi Afifah,

    Are you sure she has Gout and TMJ? I just did a quick Google search, and I can’t find any articles where they are related. If you can get to doctors who would take you seriously, maybe have blood work done to rule out toxins and heavy metals.

    A few kind of catch-all treatments are All Natural Apple Cider Vinegar — the one that has the “mother” in it. Just put a tablespoonful some in some hot water with honey, and have her drink it 2x a day. It’s not so bad once the first one or two sips are taken. Apple Cider Vinegar Pills can also be used. They are O.K., but not as good.
    Bee products, such as Royal Jelly and Bee Pollen are also used to cure many ailments.
    Try 500-1000mcg of B12 taken under the tongue. In my opinion, B12 is responsible for so much, that EVERYONE should take it every day, just in case.

    Keep Googling TMJ+Gout, or Gout+Frozen Jaw — look up any combination you can think of. Many times, it’s not the official Web Sites, like the one for the Mayo Clinic, but other articles, blogs, and forums that people who have actually lived with the disease have written which are the most help.

    Good Luck!

    • Thanks for that AnnF, I will get onto the cider vinegar idea tomorrow. I am not sure why an acidic compound (vinegar) will dissolve another acid (urate). Any idea? Presumably an alkalising agent could dissolve the uric acid crystals, if indeed there are any. Although there is no redness or swelling I just suddenly clicked that with the amount of purines that she has been getting through for at least the past year could be the cause of this jaw situation. It is far from proven, but I feel it’s better to reduce the purines now, before any real harm is done.
      Cheers ~ Afifah

      • I know that the vinegar does turn alkaline in the body, that’s why it’s used to help chronic heartburn and acid reflux. I saw a site today that said to use baking soda 4x a day for gout, but it seemed more like an ad from the baking soda industry. If adding alkalinity to the body helps, it does make sense, though. The only thing is that the sodium in baking soda can’t be too good for the kidneys.
        I’ve also heard good things about fasts. They release toxins, and kind of “reset” the body. I’m sure that there are bad stories too, but it’s worth looking into.
        Your daughter is at a good age to try different remedies. I remember turning 25, and things like exercise, losing weight, and getting over illness became harder, and forget about 30!

        • Gout is way more complicated than just eating stuff that supposedly alkalizes the blood.

          High levels of uric acid aren’t a reliable indicator of propensity for gout, some people get it with low levels, others with high levels never have a problem.

          More things to consider is kidney clearance functioning, sleep apnea/hypoxia, fructose, alcohol, adiposity, activity, etc etc. In the end all of these things contribute – however it’s nearly always some kind of catalyst which turns into cascade of events which end up in joint crystals.

          I’ve put together a big fat chunk of resources on the matter for anyone wanting to research further:

          –> http://highsteaks.com/forum/health-nutrition-and-science/uric-acid-gout-and-kidney-stones-111.0.html

          • Ash,
            A big drug company was touting a drug for gout that reduced uric acid levels (the people in the commercial were carrying around big flasks filled with blue liquid), whether it helped people or not, I don’t know. I always figure the big catch-alls, like apple cider vinegar, etc., are the best to start with.
            She also has to consider the TMJ, which may or may not be related.
            I didn’t look at your info, but have you heard of any relation?

    • There are 2-3 Amino acids that are critical to the Urea cycle in the body, and I think a couple minerals those rely on. I’m not 100% sure I remember it all off the top of my head so I’m being general, so you can just google for the info. If gout is an issue, you definitely want to make sure your body has all the raw ingredients it needs for handling uric acid properly.

  13. Hi, I am concerned about gout as my 2 year old ‘offal central’ daughter has what could be gout in her TMJ. I have looked at your previous article on gout, and you don’t seem to think it is really very likely, but since she has been eating liver a couple of times a week as well as tongue, hearts, kidney and meat, as well as a great many eggs (at least four per day) and not a lot of vegetables (certainly no salad or fruit) the fact that one of her temporo-mandibular joints is preventing her from opening her mouth properly is now worrying her, and me. Don’t want to see a doctor (they are unlikely to take it seriously, and blood tests for urate are less accurate than are saliva tests, but the salurate kit is not readily available) I thought I’d come here.
    Any advice Chris, or anyone else? Obviously we have now stopped the offal, and red meat and switched to small amounts of organic chicken and loads of veg, and more carbs like carrots and sweet potato so that she is not so deep into ketosis, and she’s on cherries and blueberries too, and ascorbic acid, but any other suggestions would be very welcome!
    Thanks for you excellent work.
    Afifah

  14. I grew up eating liver. I couldn’t stand it then, and I won’t eat it now. My mother tried disguising it in a multitude of ways, but there was no getting past the taste, the smell, or the texture — kind of like thick mud.
    I have tried goose liver pate, and I couldn’t stand that either!
    Liverwurst, I like, but I do think it has very little liver in it.

  15. Hi, My mum makes crumbed sheep’s brains and they are yum in my opinion. Also Steak and Kidney pie is really good if your not like me and love to eat diced kidney in onion gravy. I also eat liverwurst that’s a good one to try if you want to get started on liver. I haven’t really tried heart before I did not even know that you could eat it I usually feed it to my animals, however I am game to try it now that I know it is probably really good for me.

  16. I would like to eat the fat (cholesterol I believe) around the heart. Is this ok to do. I do eat chicken hearts that have fat/cholesterol around them.
    How about very lightly cooked, heart and fat and possibly even raw. I do like raw liver but, to be on the safe side, I soak my raw meats in water solution with some drops of home made Lugol’s Iodine (nix the rubbing alcohol found in the commercial stuff).
    Namaste and care,
    mhikl

  17. I wonder if organic liver sausage would be a good idea?
    I just ate rabbit liver and the taste got me nauseated, but I never had a problem with all types of sausages that include brain, liver, blood, gelatin etc.

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