Cow tongue, brain, and heart are all edible. Along with the intestines, lining of the stomach, liver, and other internal organs, these foods are collectively referred to as offal and are quite common in many parts of the world.
If you think about meat from a cow, you probably think of steaks, hamburgers, and maybe ground beef. What most people don’t know is that there is a whole other category of edible cow meat called offal, which includes any part of the cow’s internal organs.
In this article, we’re going to look at some of the more interesting cuts of offal, find out how they compare to regular beef cuts, how to eat them, and what they taste like.
Which Cow Organs are Edible? (Offal)
Many internal cow organs are edible, although some need to be specially prepared first.
Internal parts of a cow which can be eaten include:
- Stomach Lining (aka tripe)
- Thymus (aka throat sweetbread)
- Pancreas (aka gut sweetbread)
- Intestines (aka chitterlings)
In addition to these internal organs, there are a few external parts of a cow which are also considered offal. These include the tongue, the hooves, and the tail (usually called Oxtail).
Can You Eat Cow Tongue?
Cow tongue (usually marketed as beef tongue) is edible and contains lots of beneficial nutrients and minerals, however it is also extremely high in fat.
It’s commonly eaten in some European countries, and in Mexico where it’s known as Lengua de Vaca.
Beef tongue is rich in choline, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, and is said to be a healthy food for pregnant women.
Can You Eat Cow Heart?
Yes, you can eat cow heart. It’s usually marketed as beef heart or ox heart and sold either as steaks for grilling or frying, or in chunks or strips to make stews or stir frys.
Read More: How Many Hearts does a Cow Have?
It’s not common in the United States, although it’s readily available from butchers or meat wholesalers. It’s commonly sold in the UK and Europe as a cheap alternative to regular beef.
Cow heart is rich in vitamin B12, B5, B2, B3, B1, and Choline, which helps your body process fat.
Can You Eat Cow Brain?
Calf brain is considered a delicacy in some countries, especially in France and in the former French North African colonies of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria where it’s known as cervelle de veau (Calf Brain).
Due to the risk of humans contracting the human variant of mad cow disease (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) the consumption of brain and spine is heavily regulated in most of Europe and North America.
In the United States, USDA regulations stipulate that the brain and spinal cord must be completely removed from any meat over the age of 30 months and are not allowed to enter the US food supply.
These regulations, in addition to strict regulations on feed and culling of any cattle showing signs of neurological disease have been effective in minimizing outbreaks of BSE in the US.
Why do we Eat Offal / Cow Organs?
1. It’s Cheap
Organ meat is usually much cheaper than regular cuts of beef.
2. It Would Be Wasteful Not To
Many organs are perfectly edible and it would be wasteful not to use them.
For organs which are less desirable for human consumption, they are sold to be used for dog or other animal feed, used in industrial food production, or used as fertilizer.
Read More: How Many People can a Cow Feed?
In many parts of the world, offal and internal organs are part of traditional meals which have lasted for generations.
4. Offal is Nutritious
Internal organs are rich in nutrients which can be hard to find in other meat or food sources.
Some essential nutrients like vitamin B12 can only be found in meat and dairy products, and can not be made by the human body.
What Does Offal Taste Like?
Offal has a bit of a bad reputation for tasting disgusting. The truth is, some organs are very strong, and some are almost tasteless. Some offal meat like chitterlings are made from the intestines, so have a very bad smell before they are cooked.
Let’s look at a few different offal cuts and see what they taste like:
What Does Cow Tongue / Beef Tongue Taste Like?
Cow tongue is the mildest tasting of all the common offal meats. Since it’s just a big fatty muscle, it tastes more like a steak and lacks the strong offal flavor of liver or spleen.
Cow tongue is usually boiled, diced, or fried, and served with aromatics like onions or garlic.
What Does Cow Heart / Beef Heart Taste Like?
Cow heart tastes like a stronger version of a regular steak.
Similar to cow tongue, cow heart is a muscle and lacks the strong offal flavor of more internal organs like liver.
Beef heart is solid muscle with minimal fat, so tastes like a very gamey steak. When it’s cooked, it lacks the marbling effect which gives more prime cuts of steak their flavor.
Read More: How Many Steaks come from one Cow?
What Does Cow Brain / Calf Brain Taste Like?
Calf brains are watery and lack any strong flavor. They are usually cooked with a strong, flavorsome sauce or fried and served with other foods.
Scrambled brains is one such recipe, which calls for the brains to be soaked in salt water, then fried and served with scrambled eggs.
Is It Safe To Eat Offal?
Offal is safe to eat, although some parts need to be cooked in a special way to make them safe.
Some cuts of offal including brains and spine are highly regulated, to reduce the risk of neurological diseases entering the food supply.
Cow hearts, brains, and tongue are all edible, although they are much less commonly eaten than standard cuts of beef.
Along with other internal organs like liver, spleen, throat, intestines and stomach, heart, brains, and tongues are collectively known as “offal”.
Offal is usually much cheaper than prime cuts of lean beef. It was traditionally eaten only by the poor, but nowadays there are lots of traditional meals and high end restaurants serving offal dishes, and many offal parts including brains are a delicacy in some parts of the world.
Organs like cow hearts and cow tongues are nutrient dense, and contain lots of vitamins and minerals which can be hard to come by in other foods, such as vitamin B12 which is only found in animal and dairy products.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.