Animal organs and glands offer a diversity of flavors, textures, and nutritional values. Traditions, culture, and religion play a big role in how these glands and organs are used for food. Many of these variety meats are exported to foreign countries for consumption.
The organs and glands used for human food include heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, tongue, pancreas, thymus, cattle and sheep stomachs, testes, and the stomachs and uteri of pigs.
Brains and spinal cords are now considered inedible because of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease). Lungs are considered inedible because they are a filtering mechanism of inhaled air, but they are used in pet foods.
Hearts are used as table meat or in ground meat products, but must be listed separately on the label.
Kidneys are trimmed of blood vessels and ureters and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Liver is the most widely used organ meat. It is used in processed meats, such as liver sausage and liver pate. Livers from lambs, veal calves, and baby beef (3 9 mos.) are preferred because they have mild flavor and finer texture. The tongue, sweetbreads (thymus), and oxtail are sold as fresh items. Ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, and goats) have four stomach compartments: rumen, reticulum, abomasum, and omasum. The rumen and reticulum are most often used for food and are processed at slaughter by washing, scalding, and bleaching. They can be eaten after cooking or used in processed meats, or they can be sewn to form a casing and stuffed with various types of meat.
Meat animal intestines are cleaned and packed in a salt brine and used for sausage casings. The diameter of these natural casings dictates the size and shape of the sausage product, such as a wiener or a bologna.
Edible cattle udders are sliced, washed free of milk, and cooked by frying or boiling. Spleens are minced and used as flavoring agents, or in pies or processed meats.
Consumable uteri come from nonpregnant pigs and are poached or boiled.
Hormones are secreted by endocrine glands and tissues including the liver, lungs, pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, stomach, parathyroid, kidney, and adrenal, and the ovary at various stages. These glands and tissues are collected from healthy animals, sent to pharmaceutical companies for processing, and are used as medicines.
The inner portion of the adrenal gland (medulla) secretes epinephrine and norepinephrine. These substances are used to stop hemorrhaging, to stimulate heart action, and to overcome shock. Steroids from the cortex (outer part) regulate the utilization of nutrients such as fat, carbohydrate, minerals, and water. Steroids removed from cattle, pig, and sheep adrenal glands are used as anti-inflammatory agents and for treatment of asthma and shock.
Brains, nervous tissues, and spinal cords are a good source of cholesterol, which is used in the synthesizing of vitamin D3 and as an emulsifier in cosmetics. Melatonin is extracted from the pineal gland and may aid the treatment of schizophrenia and insomnia.
The pituitary gland produces growth hormone, thyroid stimulating hormone, mammary stimulating hormone, and adrenocortical stimulating hormone. These hormones control growth and metabolism, and regulate the activity of other endocrine glands. Adrenocortical stimulating hormone is the main hormone extracted from the pituitary and is used in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, eye inflammation, and multiple myeloma.
The liver of cattle and pigs provides a good source of vitamin B12. Heparin can be extracted from the liver, small intestine, and lungs. It is an anticoagulant to prolong the clotting time of blood and to prevent blood clotting during surgery.
Progesterone and estrogen are extracted from pig ovaries and are used in the treatment of hormone imbalances in women. Relaxin, extracted from the ovaries of pregnant sows, is used to assist with childbirth.
The pancreas of meat animals, especially from pigs, provides a good source of insulin used in diabetic therapy. However, the use of animal insulin is diminishing because insulin can be artificially synthesized. Two proteolytic enzymes, chymotrypsin and trypsin, may be extracted from the pancreas and used to improve healing after injury or surgery.
In addition to sausage casings, intestines from sheep and calves (under 9 mos.) are used to make catgut, the material used for internal surgical sutures.
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