When I was a kid, my mom told me "horror" stories about eating liver once a week growing up. Liver sounded pretty disgusting to me back then, and up until last year I was thankful to have been spared from ever having to eat liver as a child - and I didn’t plan on eating it as an adult either.
Well, things change. And for me reading the section in Nourishing Traditions about organ meats really got me thinking (not salivating, but thinking). What if all our preconceived notions about organ meats are wrong? Why do we want to discard these foods like refuse when our ancestors placed so much value on them?
Enter my new friend liver. Granted, it’s a tentative relationship, but I find that I’m warming up to the idea of eating liver. I’m even trying to make it a staple in my home. No, we aren’t eating hefty slices of liver with our dinner - and maybe we never will - but I intend to include this old-fashioned favorite into our diet as much as I reasonably can.
Why? When it comes to nutrient-dense food, liver tops the charts with ease. Here’s what liver has to offer:
Vitamin A. Tons of it - a whopping 9,000 IU per ounce of beef liver. That makes it one of the most abundant sources of vitamin A on the plant, second only to cod liver oil (note that it's cod liver oil). Vitamin A is abolutely essential for growth and development, a healthy immune system, good vision and much more. If you’ve heard some of the reports circling through the medical community that too much vitamin A is toxic, read this detailed article which dispels that myth and sets the facts straight.
The B vitamin complex. Deficiencies in B vitamins - especially B6 and B12 - are common today, perhaps because we don’t eat our weekly serving of liver anymore. Liver is a very rich source of those important B vitamins which are involved in everything from fat metabolism to mood.
Minerals. My grandmother had trouble with anemia, and my mom remembers that one of the reasons they ate liver so often was for its rich iron content. The iron in liver is highly absorbable. Liver also contains a wealth of other minerals like copper, zinc and chromium, all of which are important for staying healthy.
CoQ10. Boy, this one receives a lot of press these days for its heart health benefits, and liver is a great natural source of CoQ10. Who thought eating liver could be so good for your heart? (Eating heart’s good for your heart, too, but that’s whole other post...)
Not to mention that up until the last couple decades liver was considered a curative food and came highly recommended even by medical professionals! Patients with everything from chronic fatigue to cancer to general illness were told to eat more liver.
How to Choose Good Liver
Unlike common assumptions, the liver neutralizes toxins but doesn’t actually store them. So eating liver isn’t toxic at all. But, as with all meats, it’s best to choose organic liver, preferably from pastured animals if at all possible. This way you get the best concentration and balance of nutrients from healthy animals without worrying about pesticides, soy feeds, etc.
How to Eat Liver
This is the scary part for a lot of people who weren’t raised eating liver (including myself). But of all the organ meats, liver is one of the easiest to obtain and incorporate into modern dishes. In fact, liver is so jam-packed with nutrients that you don’t even have to eat much to reap the benefits. Between one and four ounces per week will provide a lot of nutrients. Squeezing that much in really isn’t too difficult.
Here’s how I eat liver at my house (and how I get my husband and kids to eat it, too): I sneak it into ground beef recipes. We eat ground meat once or twice a week anyway, so I just finely grind a few ounces of liver in my food processor and mix it into the ground meat while I’m browning it. Depending on the dish I may attempt up to a 1:1 ratio of meat to liver. Italian- or Mexican-inspired dishes with plenty of flavor easily mask the taste of liver. Marinating the liver beforehand in lemon juice or diluted vinegar with spices also takes the edge off. (In fact, the liver blends so well with the meat I’m not even sure exactly what liver actually tastes like by itself!)
I’ve even pureed an ounce or two of liver into bone broth to make a soup (in tomato soup you really don’t notice it at all) I do not, however, let my family in on this secret. I’m not sure if they would eat it if they knew. They just know I'm serving up tasty, nourishing foods and we don't discuss the details.
Of course, there are old standbys like fried liver and onions (sometimes with apples), liver with gravy, or liver pate. But I don’t think we’re quite ready for those at my house.
Now if you really want to get serious about liver, you can spring for going raw. Raw liver is just exploding with nutrients, unviolated by heat from cooking. Here’s some suggestions for eating raw liver from a WAPF article about liver:
There are two basic methods. One calls for freezing the liver for 14 days in large chunks. (Fourteen days will ensure the elimination of pathogens and parasites.) You can then grate the liver on the small holes of a grater and add it to milk or juice, or even hot cereal. A teaspoon or two of grated raw liver can be added to baby’s egg yolk, or even to mashed vegetables.Again, I don’t see myself going for this anytime soon, but maybe someday (for now raw egg yolks are easier for me). The "liver pills" sound fairly easy to swallow (pun intended). Maybe I’ll go for those sometime just for the added health benefit.
The second method turns liver into pills! Cut fresh liver into pea-sized pieces and freeze for 14 days. Swallow like vitamin pills.
For both methods, the liver should be of the highest quality available and very fresh.
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