Sweetbreads: What You Need to Know

Sweetbreads: What You Need to Know

When we think of sweetbreads, warm, buttery slices of banana bread come to mind, but trust us -- the name could not be any more misleading. Find out exactly what this mystery food is and shed some light on how it is prepared.

What are sweetbreads?

Sweetbreads are the thymus gland and pancreas of young calves, lambs, and pigs. There are two different types of sweetbreads: heart sweetbreads (also called stomach sweetbreads), which come from the animal's pancreas and are considered the more prized of the two, and throat sweetbreads which come from the thymus gland. The heart sweetbread is more flavorful, more expensive and often harder to come by. You can tell the difference between the two by the throat variety's tubular shape and the heart variety's round, spherical shape. Sweetbreads are considered a delicacy by chefs around the globe and the flavor is described as rich and creamy.

How do you make sweetbreads?

Cooking sweetbreads is not for the faint of heart. Not only do they take a lot of time and patience to prepare, but you have to be ready to get your hands dirty. First and foremost, the sweetbreads must be soaked in water (some chefs say salted water) for several hours. This rids the meat of blood and other impurities. It also removes a layer around them which, makes it more tender and gives it a more mild flavor.

Then, the sweetbreads need to be blanched (though this step is up for debate). Afterwards, things get a little messy. You need to peel the piece of meat to remove the membrane and trim any veins or gristle. This process can be time consuming. However, once the prep work is done, the possibilities are endless -- you can sauté, poach, roast, braise, fry, blend, or boil this delicacy. They pair best with sour flavors - think lemons or capers.

Are sweetbreads good for you?

Sweetbreads vary drastically nutrition-wise. Beef sweetbreads are super caloric and contain around 28 g of fat for just four ounces of beef. However, they are not all bad -- sweetbreads are high in protein, Vitamin B and Vitamin C. They also contain copious amounts of B 12, a vitamin with that is most common in nutrient deficiencies.

Sweetbreads can be found at quality butchers but be prepared to shell out some cash. Some sweetbreads can cost up to $16 per pound!

If you liked this article, check out other foods that are not what they seem.