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Why Do We Love Tongue But Think Brains Are Disgusting?

I wonder where these likes and dislikes spring from. I'd understand it if I disliked all organ meats because they were disgusting...but I love tongue (okay, okay, not an organ) and liver and can't stand sweetbreads or brains or kidneys. I actually do know when I decided brains were not for me. It was at a fancy dinner with my parents and their friends at a long-gone L.A. restaurant called Cafe de Paris. Somebody ordered brains. I didn't hear them. Shortly thereafter, a plate with a round object appeared. The round object was coated in mustard sauce. To my horror, as I watched, the sauce sank into the crenelations and I saw before me ....a BRAIN! Just like the one in the jar in Frankenstein movies. That was it! Now, years and years later I still have that revulsion whenever I think of eating brains.

Anybody have a clue?

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  1. There's a very real difference in texture between brains and tongue. Tongue is muscle, though it's a fine grain one. Sweetbreads and brains are quite soft, more like scrambled eggs. I haven't had kidneys in some time, but I recall the texture was reasonably firm. Other organ meats like liver and heart have a stronger, irony flavor, though the texture is different. Some people have complained about the flavor of hanger steak, which it might have picked up from nearby heart or kidneys.

    So some people are put off by mental associations. Others by unusual textures, or strong flavors, still others by poor preparations.


    1 Reply
    1. re: paulj

      Well, the experience Joan had would talk me out of eating brains, for sure! Except I did eat some, by mistake, in a taco the other day. I guess they either misunderstood or else they had some brains to get rid of that night. Not that bad. My grandmother loved brains. I love sweetbreads and most other offal. I think Americans miss a lot when we eschew these meats.

    2. Brains do have that fatty rich taste. People just don't reach past the chips to finish the whole animal these days. Maybe things like cartilage, sweet breads, brains, grubs, and insect larvae become part of food culture because of desperate times. I'm glad I'm not that hungry.

      1. Because people are squeamish and a dish like liver and onions is far more likely to appear on the dinner table at home then say, brains. I know among South Asians (at least the ones I know), brains are much easier for many of them to down then sweatbreads and some other organ meats because that was what their parents made. Personally, the texture of brains throws me a bit but I can eat them and if I was served them at someone's house I would eat them no problem, but then again I disprove my theory because we almost never had offal at home. In fact, I only started eating absolutely anything when I was about 16-17. Poor preperation definitely turns a lot of people off from offal too. Not to mention that 90% of society is scared of anything but filet mignon.

        2 Replies
        1. re: JFores

          The image of the horrible movie where somebody was eating brains out of a severed monkey's head springs to mind. Or the equally horrible 'other' movie.

          I'll pass on brains, thanks. Having seen my father eat the brains and eyes of a roasted lamb's head as a kid did it for me.

          1. re: JFores

            I agree that this has a lot to do with it. My mother regularly served tongue (and prepared it quite well, even though she generally wasn't a very good cook) and liver, but not any other type of organ meats...so it wasn't a big stretch for me to start eating them in other cuisines as I got older and starting expanding my horizons, because I was already familiar with the taste.

          2. Maybe because brains have a very high fat content?

            8 Replies
            1. re: limster

              Do you know what the fat content of brain is? Because I read somewhere that tongue has a pretty high fat content as well -- in a 3 oz portion, there's 18 grams of fat! Pretty deceptive.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                'Unmentionable Cuisine' claims beef tongue has half the fat of Tbone steak. My observation is that the fat content varies with position in the tongue. The tip is leanest, the base of the root fattiest.

                The same book claims beef brain has 1/4 of the fat of Tbone, but it is high in cholesterol.

                The way I usually serve tongue, simmered till tender, then sliced and served with a spicy sauce, both portion size and fat content are lower than the typical steak serving.


                1. re: paulj

                  I think that if you do boil tongue, you will remove a lot of the fat. That is my favorite way of eating it. Yesterday, I had tongue cured like bacon. It was pretty fatty. Indeed at the base, there was a strip of fat. Thanks for the info about the brain.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    Last night I made a 'tongue rarebit', basically a Welsh rabbit sauce with beef tongue slices, over toast. I used beer, prepared mustard, and Worcester sauce, and a modest amount of sharp cheddar for the sauce, aiming for a sauce that was fairly savory and not too cheesy.. Worked pretty well.


                    1. re: paulj

                      That sounds delicious. Maybe a way I can get my husband to eat tongue.

                      And to add to my original post, with me it's not the texture. I absolutely adore chicken livers, which have a velvety soft texture and are not at all like tongue.

                      My grandpa used to say he never ate lamb because "I can taste da vool". I have heard some folks say they avoid kidneys for a similar reason.

                      Although I new recall I have fond memories of my mother's steak and kidney pie. She was a magnificent cook, though, and could make almost anything taste great

                      1. re: oakjoan

                        >>because "I can taste da vool".

                        Is that something that can be explained?

                        I almost forgot my favorite canned product. Correction, my favorite named canned product, I wouldn't buy one, oh no.


                        1. re: dolores

                          i think grandpa was saying "i can taste the wool," with an accent.

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            Oh! Thanks, soupkitten, I had imagined something much worse.

            2. "Shortly thereafter, a plate with a round object appeared. The round object was coated in mustard sauce. To my horror, as I watched, the sauce sank into the crenelations and I saw before me ....a BRAIN! Just like the one in the jar in Frankenstein movies. That was it! Now, years and years later I still have that revulsion whenever I think of eating brains."

              Now that is hilarious. If I didn't already enjoy all organs, sweetbreads, and everything else, I'd be turned off by that description. On the other hand, the couple of times I've had brain, it wasn't served whole, sitting upright, and with a perfectly timed sinking sauce. You only needed a fog machine to get the complete atmosphere in place.

              1. Who says we love tongue? I'm not a huge fan—it's definitely texture; tastebuds rubbing my tastebuds give me the chills—but I do like sweetbreads. And heart if I don't think about it too much.

                1 Reply
                1. re: tatamagouche

                  I've got to agree with you and say I've met a lot of people who hate tongue. Personally, I think it tastes divine.

                2. In my case it's Mad Cow Disease that puts me off brain.

                  1. personally, i have no hard feelings towards any sort of offal at a ll. my father tells me stories of when he was growing up in world war two england, and his mother would walk close to ten miles to the nearest farm outside of his town to get a pig brain for dinner. i grew up eating tongue and hearts... and rodents like pigeon and squirrel. so, i have no qualms with any sort of organ meats. i suppose it's all in how you were raised. to me, food is food. now, after being forced to eat offals for so many years growing up, i did become a vegetarian for about ten years. however, that was just teenage rebellion and now that i've become older, the lessons from my youngest years have set in and i can comfortably eat pretty much anything. thank god.

                    1. One rarely sees brain on a menu anymore, sadly. That said, I have never, never, ever, seen it served as a whole, intact, brain. It really does call up a lot of black and white images, Igor is your waiter, How To Serve Human, etc. When I have ordered it, it's always been some variation on the milanese, i.e., sliced, encrusted in bread crumb, and unrecognisable as a brain. On those rare occasions when I have prepared it, that was also how I did it. After doing a bit of a search, I found a few recipes in my library that instruct the cook to serve the brain in lobes, so I guss it is possible, but probably only if Igor is coming to dinner.

                      A friend of mine owned a bistro, and one of the specials one night was brain. My hand written bill arrived at the end of the meal. On it: "1 mind $18".

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: hungry_pangolin

                        >>How To Serve Human, etc.--

                        "it's a cookbook"!!!!!

                        Brrrrr, the descriptions here do NOT make me want to run out and buy a bushel of brains.

                        Yet, oddly, a tongue sandwich and calves liver and bacon is quite good.

                        1. re: dolores

                          It's mad cow with me too. I know an infectious disease veterinarian who works for the state getting called out on potential mad cow cases, and he won't touch brains now, and doesn't think anyone should-- and that's after growing up in a ranch family and eating them for years. And he's not exactly a touchy-feely precautionary principle abiding liberal type, if you get my drift.

                          I grew up with both tongue and brains, and won't touch either for aesthetic reasons too. Watching my grandma saw up tongue for sandwiches did not ever make my mouth water. I'm sure it's tasty, but ick, I'll pick a part of the cow that doesn't require peeling the skin off.

                          1. re: Vetter

                            Not just cow brain either, and not just agricultural animals, it occurrs naturally in many different animals -- even humans.

                            1. re: Vetter

                              Vetter.....Can you contract mad cow only by eating the brains, or is it also possible to contract from the "normal" cuts (steaks, ribs, etc...)?

                              1. re: franprix

                                The most likely transmission route is the consumption of beef nerve (brain and spinal column) tissue. As seen in the table in the wiki article, BSE has been a much larger problem in the UK than anywhere else, including the USA.

                                So beef brain is much less available in the US markets. Some users have switched to pig brains, which have not been implicated in any problems.


                            2. re: dolores

                              Just to be precise, it was "To Serve Man."

                                1. re: BobB

                                  I know, BobB, but I didn't know hungrypangolin was referring to the episode.

                            3. I enjoy tongue, but the problem I have is that eating it occasionally makes me think of the experience of biting one's own tongue, which is, of course, an unpleasant sensation.

                              1. Well... speak for yourself. I love both tongue (in madeira sauce over rice -- delicious) and brains, though I haven't had a chance to eat the latter in a loooooong time. Tongue in madeira sauce was a traditional xmas dish at my grandma's house. It's like the most tender braised beef imaginable.

                                Brains... ok, that's a stretch for many, but I'm not of the squeamish kind '-). Lightly breaded, pan-seared with lots of butter, s&P and a dash of fresh lemon juice... who could resist?

                                Kidneys in a mustardy cream sauce? Awesome. Pan-fried sweetbreads? Bring 'em on. Calf's liver? Berlin specialty with caramelized onions & apples over mashed potatoes.... ok. Now I am really, really hungry. Alas, no organ meats in the house (my man's is a bit more squeamish about that stuff *sigh*).

                                1. For me, it's just too personal in a way that the tongue is not. The tongue is more function and of the flesh. The brain...is the thinking part of an animal and so seems less like protein and more like the soul, a part of being, the seat of consciousness.
                                  Some might argue that *my* brain should be a little more scientific, but that's not how my brain works...

                                  I feel the same way about eyeballs,
                                  in terms of connection to their function in a living being.
                                  But that could also be an imagined texture issue, or the viewing of Un Chien Andalou at an impressionable age....

                                  I like sweetbreads, just a bit too rich to eat much or often.
                                  Fun bit to ponder, plowing a little deeper in to the Nose to Tail discussion..thx oakjoan!

                                  1. for me it's about upbringing and what you are used to. We had tongue and liver, gizzards but nothing else internal. Some people can't eat whitebait (whole small fish, eyes fins scales and all) others can. some can't even stand to see a whole fish on their plate or even gut a fish.
                                    And some eat testicles, eyes, hooves, feet, tails etc.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: smartie

                                      Ah, gizzards, I love gizzards. As a kid, an aunt used to bread and fry whitebait -- she used to call the shiners -- and I wish they could still be found today. Boy were they good. Now, on your other choices? Um, no thanks!

                                    2. it's a mix or cultural and personal preferences. I remember when the olympics were in korea and the news did a fluff piece about a restaurant that served dog, and the reporter's horror about it. All i could think of was a hindu reporter standing in front of macdonald's.

                                      The more affluent the culture, the fewer organs eaten. My father adores tripe. me, much less so.

                                      1. Brain, sheep brain cooked in a cilantro sauce gently simmered was my mother's specialty. its the only way i would eat brains. tongue in soup along with head and bones was a delicacy a couple of times a year. kidneys are more frequently eaten cooked medium - never well done flash fried with onions and finished with some cilantro and peppers. my favourite way to prepare liver is boiled sliced thin and cold in a yoghurt mint sauce. but these are childhood memories. cant say i have eaten much of this as an adult.

                                        1. I really like Tongue I am not crazy about Brains... although I just had very good Sheep Brains at a Pakistani restaurant in Chicago... I know for me its textural.

                                          HERE IS THE FUNNY PART. The same Indian guys I dined with... that are perfectly happy with the Sheep brains practically threw up when I teased them by pretending to put slices of my Rare Steak on their plates a few months back - also in Chicago. As I was in the mood to press their buttons... i told them about slurping down dozens of Raw Oysters, Conch etc., and one guy literally had to step out into the blizzard to catch some fresh air.

                                          1. I'm somewhat worried about prions and such.