I’m on a mission to get people eating more organ meats – here’s why, and how.
My cookbook, It Takes Guts, is about the benefits of eating organ meat, also known as offal (pronounced like but doesn’t taste aa·fl). But more importantly, it’s about being willing to try new things and approach eating (and life) as a delicious, rewarding adventure.
I have my own fears, for sure (only crazy people parachute out of planes for fun, if you ask me), but trying new foods has never been one of them. During my travels and time living in different countries and cities, I’ve always sought out cultural cuisines and new dishes and ingredients. It’s such a fun and low- risk way to experience something completely different. Think about it: the worst that could happen is you don’t like the new food, and you’re right where you started. But if you try something new and you enjoy it, you’ve just opened up an entirely new world of experiences (and health, in this case).
Learning about our food—where it comes from, how it nourishes you, and how you can make an impact on improving our food system through your choices— is also incredibly rewarding and empowering. Every time I make a new recipe with a new ingredient sourced from a farm raising and harvesting their animals in an ethical way, I feel accomplished as well as nourished and satisfied. What more could you ask for?
In my book, I outline the significance of nose-to-tail eating throughout history and across every culture (including the unfortunate reasons why it’s fallen out of favor); I discuss the health benefits and popular cooking prep for every organ, literally from head to tail; I touch on some of the ethical, sustainable, and economic discussions around this form of eating, and most importantly, I tell some fun food stories and give you some tasty, healthy recipes to try. If I haven’t quite convinced you yet, here’s a bit more of a breakdown about the wonderful world of organ meats, and how anyone can give it a try.
5 Myths About Offal—DEBUNKED!
Organ meats taste gross.
Some organs are stronger tasting or have distinct textures, for sure—but this myth is more about familiarity and perspective than it is about something being inherently “gross.” Many of us who eat factory-farmed chicken and beef from the grocery store aren’t really experiencing what healthy, naturally raised meat actually tastes like. Describing game animals as “gamey” is often seen as a negative thing, but game meat is my favorite; I enjoy and seek out rich, unique flavors like lamb, elk, and venison. Chicken breast doesn’t really taste like much at all, which is why it is often dressed up in breading or sauces. When trying different cuts, different animals, and different preparations and simply getting used to new flavors and textures, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy them!
Offal is harder to prepare.
While some cuts require more prep or more delicate handling, this can be said about many different cuts of meat, produce, baking projects, and so on. Just because something requires a bit more work doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing! All it takes is a bit of research, practice, and helpful guides like It Takes Guts to help you on your way. And as you’ll see in my book, some organ meat dishes are shockingly quick and easy to make.
Organ meats are dangerous to eat.
As with any animal protein, you should seek out the healthiest, freshest, ideally locally grown, and sustainably raised and harvested meat you possibly can. If this is your aim, there is no difference in the “health” or “risk” of eating that animal’s organs versus the muscle meat. As with any food, certain offal has cooking, storing, and prep requirements that you should educate yourself on, but there is no evidence that healthy, properly cleaned and prepared organ meats are inherently more dangerous to eat than any other part of the animal.
Organ meat is hard to find.
If you have access to a butcher shop or a farmer’s market, or a nearby farm where you can buy meat directly, you should have relatively easy access to organs—especially cuts like liver, heart, cheeks, bones, and tongue, which are pretty commonly eaten cuts even in mainstream circles. You may need to do a bit more work to find cuts like brain, spleen, and testicles, but again, just because something takes a bit more effort doesn’t mean it’s not worth it! Establishing good relationships with your local butchers and farmers is a great way to learn more about the harvesting process, local availability, and even tips for cooking and preparing new cuts.
Eating offal is weird and extreme.
This one is a total cop-out. People all over the world and throughout human history have eaten, and continue to eat, nose-to-tail. It’s only very recently, and in some parts of the world, where we are “privileged” enough to be able to waste parts of an animal we kill for food (and the most nutritious parts at that!). A few generations ago, the concept of hunting, harvesting, and preparing an animal and not eating the organs would have been seen as weird and extreme, so it’s really all about perspective and what you’ve been exposed to. Just because we’re accustomed to seeing and eating fake, processed foods that remove us from the reality of nature and our place in it doesn’t mean it’s the better choice.
5 Way To Introduce Yourself (Or Someone Else) To Organ Meats
Start small (literally).
Start by experimenting with chicken livers and chicken hearts. They’re easy to make, mild tasting, and easy to find.
“Hide” offal in foods you already love.
You can enjoy the health and cost- saving benefits of organ meats without having to taste them if you don’t want to. Chop up some heart and liver and add it to ground beef (or have your butcher premix it for you). It’s generally recommended to use a 4:1 beef-to-organ ratio. You may not even notice the difference, but your burgers and meatballs will be supercharged with vitamins and minerals!
Pâté is a loaf or spread that is usually made with a mixture of ground meat and organs (often liver), spices, fat, and alcohol. I don’t know what genius thought of combining liver, brandy, and spices, but I’m thankful, because pâté is one of the most delicious foods on the planet. It is surprisingly crowd-pleasing, even for folks who would balk at the idea of eating liver in other ways. This is an easy “starter” food for folks who are nervous about eating organ meats.
Try offal that is also muscle meat.
Often, when people think about organs, they think of liver, kidney, and brains—but many organs are also muscles. This type of offal is milder tasting and has a more meaty, familiar texture that’s easier to eat if you’re just getting used to offal. Heart, for example, is a nutrient-dense, versatile cut that can be enjoyed barbecued, sliced thinly in a sandwich, chopped up into a stir-fry, or stuffed and roasted (to name just a few options). You don’t have to like or eat every part of an animal, but if you are willing to give new cuts a try in a few different ways, you may just find a new favorite dish!
Let a professional do the work.
If you’re open to trying new things but aren’t ready to buy or prep offal yourself, head to your favorite Mexican spot and order the tongue taco this time—I swear you won’t be disappointed. Or seek out some menudo, pho with heart and tendon, or fried sweetbreads. Share your order with a friend, and be prepared for a different experience; you may not like it, but you will have tried something new, and that’s a positive thing no matter the outcome. On the other hand, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoy a menu item you’ve always skipped over in the past.
Pick up my cookbook, It Takes Guts, and bring home the benefits of eating organ meat with world-class recipes anyone can prepare in their own kitchen!
Get Your Copy Here! – It Takes Guts by Ashleigh VanHouten
PODCAST: PA Radio EP- 449 Ashleigh VanHouten Has Guts
RECIPE: Ooey Gooey Gluten Free Cookie Bars by Samantha Flaherty
BLOG: Tiny Nutrition Habits for Colossal Body Comp Results by Rob Exline
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My holistic health and lifestyle coaching approach stems from an ancestral health background. I’m a Primal Blueprint Certified Expert with more than a decade of experience in the fitness industry. I understand the benefits of living closer to nature. I’m a communications professional, editor, and writer in the health, wellness, and nutrition field. I’ve been a contributor to Paleo Magazine for six years, and I’ve interviewed some of the biggest names in sports, nutrition, and primal health. I love to connect with people who are as passionate about health and learning as I am, including speaking about the functional, primal, and ancestral-health lifestyle at health expos, seminars, workshops, corporate events, gyms, and more.
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