Offal is not awful

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My son sent me this wonderful, learned post called "The best bits" from the "Old European culture" blog (12/7/2015).  It begins:

Offal, also called variety meats or organ meats, refers to the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal. The word does not refer to a particular list of edible organs, which varies by culture and region, but includes most internal organs excluding muscle and bone.

The word shares its etymology with several Germanic words: Frisian ôffal, German Abfall (offall in some Western German dialects), afval in Dutch and Afrikaans, avfall in Norwegian and Swedish, and affald in Danish. These Germanic words all mean "garbage", or —literally— "off-fall", referring to that which has fallen off during butchering. However, these words are not often used to refer to food with the exception of Afrikaans in the agglutination afvalvleis (lit. "off-fall-meat") which does indeed mean offal. For instance, the German word for offal is Innereien meaning innards. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word entered Middle English from Middle Dutch in the form afval, derived from af (off) and vallen (fall).

Where this post gets really interesting is when the author starts to talk about chyme and rennet and their relationship to the origins of cheese, which is one of mankind's greatest inventions.  Note that " The most important enzyme in traditional calf rennet is chymosin (derived from the Greek word 'chyme' meaning gastric liquid)…", for which see here.

In some cultures, dishes made from offal — such as the smalahove of Norway and certain versions of brawn (head cheese) in Denmark — are specialties of the Christmas season, so it is particularly appropriate to write about this subject now.

I asked a small group of friends that includes a couple of Scotsmen whether we may consider haggis a kind of offal.  One of them replied:  "Well, offal made delicious. I think France is most concerned over BRexit because it could cut off their supply of tax free Haggis."

"Waste not, want not".

[h.t. Thomas Krishna Mair; thanks to Gene Hill]


  1. mollymooly said,

    December 10, 2016 @ 7:13 am

    I think there is a distinction between offal as an ingredient or standalone food, and offal as an ingredient in dishes. Haggis belongs in the latter group along with sausages and steak-and-kidney pie.

    Or perhaps there is a cline depending on how prevalent offal is in the final dish, with cheese near one end and liver-and-onions near the other.

  2. Ralph Hickok said,

    December 10, 2016 @ 8:00 am

    And then there is humble pie.

  3. Cervantes said,

    December 10, 2016 @ 8:12 am


    Now there's a word (though not a dish) of uncertain provenance.

  4. C said,

    December 10, 2016 @ 10:07 am

    Yuck. Can we please get back to discussing linguistics? The post you linked to is just a glamour take on speciesist violence.

    "Waste not, want not"… do not kill?

  5. Aristotle Pagaltzis said,

    December 10, 2016 @ 10:42 am

    I feel compelled to note that the sense of “that which falls off” may be neutral about the nature of the fallen-off thing – such as in “Abfallprodukt”, which may refer to either waste product or by-product.

    The plain term itself, “Abfall”, is unambiguously negative. But its derivatives aren’t necessarily; they merely denote something produced incidentally, sometimes quite fortuitously so.

  6. Keith said,

    December 12, 2016 @ 4:07 am

    I've always imagined the etymology "off-fall" as being associated with the process of butchering a carcass; the bigger organs, falling away from it when the carcass is split along the belly.

    Incidentally, I noticed when I bought a haggis in Marks and Spencer in Paris recently, that the recipe has changed. It's no longer made from sheep's heart, liver and lights, but from minced pork. Perhaps this is a recent change because of EU regulations on sheep offal, linked to scrapie in sheep?

    The page in the link below lists the current ingredients in English as being "Pork Lung 32%, Beef Fat 25%, Oatmeal 19%, Pork Stock (Water, Pork Lung, Pork Heart), Pork Heart 1.5%". I seem to remember there being pearl barley, but that's not listed.

  7. Keith said,

    December 12, 2016 @ 4:08 am

    Here's the link:

  8. KeithB said,

    December 12, 2016 @ 9:45 am

    During WWII Margaret Mead tried to get us squeamish Americans to eat more organs:

  9. richardelguru said,

    December 12, 2016 @ 1:07 pm

    Mmmm haggis! if you want to DIY haggis try this from Liber cure Cocorum

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