You’re browsing your local butcher’s store, hoping to find a juicy steak or pork rib for your dinner, when you come across an intriguing piece of meat on the shelf. You look closer and see that it’s labeled ‘beef tongue’.
If you’re not familiar with tongue, and you’ve never had it before, you might be hesitant to pick some up. Some people find the idea of eating parts of the animal other than the main flesh a bit strange or unappealing.
However, there are many benefits to eating beef tongue if you give it a chance. It is flavorful meat that is rich in useful nutrients to keep your body working properly.
Whether you’re a little intrigued or still dubious, you’re probably wondering what it actually tastes like before making your decision.
Here, we’ll try to describe as closely as possible, as well as give you some tips on how to cook your beef tongue to showcase its flavor.
First of all, this meat obviously comes from a cow, which means it will taste more or less like beef.
While different parts have slightly different tastes, it usually takes a refined palette to be able to identify exactly which part you’re eating without prior knowledge.
Chances are, if you ate cow tongue and didn’t know about it, you’d be able to tell that it was some kind of beef.
Beef has a very strong umami flavor, but the tongue is just slightly milder than cuts like flank steak and rib eye. Most cows exist on a diet of mainly grass, while some are corn-fed (which is unnatural for cows).
Diet has been shown to influence the general taste of the meat – grass-fed cows produce leaner and gamier-tasting meat, whereas beef from corn-fed cows is sweeter and more fatty.
On top of this, many people prefer grass-fed beef because it is healthier for you and represents the way the meat is supposed to be, as nature intended.
It also somewhat depends on how it has been prepared as to how it tastes; skinned cow tongue has been likened to tender shredded beef in terms of both taste and texture.
We will talk more about the texture of the meat in the next section, which concerns the structural characteristics of the tongue.
The tongue is a very large muscle that is exercised a lot when the cow is alive, for the purpose of ruminating, i.e., chewing food. This results in particularly muscular meat that is tough to chew through.
To combat the toughness, it is necessary to slow cook the tongue for long periods of time, so some of the fibers break down.
Some people describe the texture of the beef tongue as gelatinous, due to the wealth of connective tissue and collagen that it contains.
These tissues don’t have a specific taste by themselves, but they can seem weird if you’re not used to them. You can try to cut out these parts, or fry pieces of beef tongue to give them a crispy texture instead.
Beef tongue has a very high-fat content, which contributes to its overall taste. While much of the fat melts away into drippings during cooking, helping to tenderize the meat, there is still a significant amount inside the tongue when you come to eating it.
Beef tongue is not lean meat, and the levels of saturated fat make it unhealthy to consume on a regular basis. However, it does have less fat than some other red meats such as pork or lamb.
As with everything else, how you prepare beef tongue plays an important role in its overall taste. Beef tongue can absorb flavors well, so it is ideal for serving in a wide range of marinades.
There are various ways of cooking your beef tongue – you can try roasting, boiling, braising, or even pickling.
Some of these take longer than others (for example, pickled beef tongue needs 4-5 days to be ready), but they all require a significant amount of preparation time.
Cooking beef tongue is a lengthy process, so don’t expect it to make a quick dinner when you have limited time.
Pickled beef tongue is cured in vinegar, salt, and other spices, so will obviously have the tangy flavor that any preparation of these ingredients has.
Many people enjoy the taste of vinegar, while others find it too acidic. Curing your beef tongue in this way makes it taste similar to both corned beef and smoked ham, and indeed can be seen as halfway between the two.
To boil beef tongue, you will usually cook it together with onions and a mix of spices, so it will take on the taste of these to a certain extent.
Additionally, beef tongue is served in many cultures with horseradish sauce – this has a very pungent taste, which is known to balance the richness of the beef.
While the way something looks doesn’t actually have any bearing on the taste, it can give you preconceptions, which in turn can make it come across a certain way in your mouth.
A raw beef tongue looks unnervingly like a tongue, which sounds silly, but you can’t escape that reality while you’re preparing it. There are bumps along the skin, just like with any tongue, and you can see where it has been cut away from the mouth.
The skin isn’t usually removed until after the meat is cut – once it is, the tongue starts to look more like normal meat.
It can be difficult not to focus on the fact that you’re eating tongue, as many people aren’t entirely comfortable with the thought of eating offal of any kind.
This can make it seem chewier or suspicious-tasting than it actually is; the truth is that properly-cooked beef tongue shouldn’t have an unpleasant or unexpected taste.
It should be no surprise to learn that beef tongue essentially tastes like any other beef, since it comes from the same animal, and is a muscle in the same way that regular cuts of beef are.
You need to cook your beef tongue for hours on the stove or otherwise so that it becomes tender and much less tough to get through. This is the best way to unlock the flavor and make it as enjoyable as possible.
You may be wondering why it’s not very popular if it truly tastes good. Many people have an aversion to eating ‘weird’ parts of an animal, so it is mainly a cultural/upbringing issue.
The low demand in the US means that it’s not easy to find for those who seek it out, and it is basically limited to butcher shops. There is also the fact that there is only one per animal, whereas each cow provides a lot more meat from the rest of its body.
If you’re serious about getting hold of beef tongue, you can find it in independent butcher shops, as well as larger grocery stores that have a full meat section.
Beef tongue is more popular in some cultures than others, so you could try your nearest Asian or Mexican market.
Make sure you have the time to dedicate to preparing your beef tongue properly, as this will make the biggest difference to how it eventually tastes.