Offal is back on the menu – and it’s a nutritional hit

You may find offal a bit off-putting, but organ meats are staging a culinary comeback – and with good reason.

Once considered a delicacy, appetite for offal has waned over the past few decades.

But a new movement led by chefs, artisan butchers, foodies and environmentally conscious eaters is bringing nose-to-tail eating back to the table, dietitian Marieke Rodenstein says.

“Organ meat is gaining popularity because people recognise it’s the most economically and environmentally friendly way to approach consuming meat,” Marieke says.

Here’s why you should get over “the ick” factor and add this nutritional powerhouse to your plate.

The benefits of eating offal

Offal, also known as organ meats, is the edible internal organs of animals, usually from cows, pigs, lambs and chickens.

There’s a huge variety to choose from, but the most common types of offal include liver, kidneys, heart, brain, tongue, tripe (stomach lining) and sweetbreads.

Compared to more popular muscle meats such as steak and chicken breasts, organ meats pack a powerful nutritional punch.

“They are true superfoods and the most nutrient-dense food on the planet, full of essential nutrients such as vitamins A, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, D, E and K and minerals such as iron, phosphorous, zinc, copper and selenium,” Marieke says.

Holistic nutritionist Elly McLean says organ meats aren’t just good for you, they’re better for the planet.

“From a sustainability point of view, using organ meats makes the most of the whole animal rather than wasting parts of it,” Elly says.

What are the best organ meats to eat?

Ready to put offal back on the menu but unsure where to start?
While all offal is incredibly nutritious, Marieke says the following are popular standouts:

  • Heart: Heart is a great source of CoQ10, which is an antioxidant that helps generate energy in your cells. And because the heart is a muscle, it tastes similar to “regular” meat and makes a great place to start for the uninitiated.
    To cook: Slice into steaks and cook to medium rare.
  • Liver: The cream of the offal crop, liver has high levels of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids.
    To cook: Pan-fry or blitz into pȃté.
  • Kidneys: Besides being rich in protein, kidneys contain essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, selenium, B-group vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
    To cook: Add to stews or pies.
  • Brain: High in omega-3 fatty acids, brain is prized as a delicacy in many cultures.
    To cook: Poach, bread or fry.
  • Sweetbreads: Don’t be fooled – sweetbreads are neither bread nor sweet; they’re made from the thymus gland and pancreas.
    To cook: Parboil or sauté.

How to add offal into your diet

Organ meats have a distinctive flavour that can be an acquired taste, but Marieke says soaking overnight in milk, buttermilk or salt water will help reduce the gaminess.

There are also simple ways to reap the benefits of eating offal without making it the whole meal, Marieke says.

“I love to make chicken liver pȃté and serve it with vegetable sticks or slathered on a slice of dark rye sourdough bread,” she says.

Marieke also recommends fortifying meat dishes with liver.

“This is a good strategy if you want the benefits of liver without the strong flavour,” she says.

“The easiest way to do this is to mince liver in a food processor and mix it with ground beef to make meatballs, meat patties, Bolognese, lasagne and shepherd’s pie.”

More nutrient-rich foods to add to your plate:

Written by Dimity Barber.