With its mild taste and tender texture, beef tongue is the perfect introduction to organ meats. Even though it’s not a super popular dish in the states outside of international cuisines, beef tongue has been a loved cut of meat in Latin America and Eastern Europe for centuries.
Beef tongue also offers a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients for a healthy and active lifestyle.
Here’s all you need to know about beef tongue, its background, nutritional facts, and preparation methods.
Beef tongue history
Although beef tongue may be new to you, it has been around for a long time. There’s some archeological evidence that inhabitants of East Africa were enjoying wildebeest tongue as long as 2.5 million years ago [*].
And a little closer to home, in 19th-century America, buffalo hunters delighted in buffalo tongue dishes long before they made their way to our plates. This isn’t all that surprising, since humans have historically used as much of the animal as possible.
These days, the modern era has prized eating “higher on the hog” and generally discounted offal and less “desirable” cuts, which we think is a mistake and ultimately a cultural distortion of great cuts.
So why has beef tongue been so popular in different cultures and across centuries? The answer may have something to do with its rich nutritional value and its flavor.
What does beef tongue taste like?
Beef tongue is famous for its unique taste. The flavor partly comes from beef tongue’s high-fat content. In America, we are used to eating sirloin, chuck, brisket, and other muscle-filled cuts. Beef tongue, however, belongs to organ meats and is more fatty, flavorful, and nutrient-dense.
Beef tongue also contains various fatty acids that mix together into a pleasantly tender texture and a mild taste.
Beef tongue’s nutritional value
A 100g portion of beef tongue contains 278 calories, 19 grams of protein, and 22 grams of fat. Calories are important because your body uses them as fuel and energy. Protein is essential for repairing cells and making new ones, and because beef tongue is so high in protein, it’s a good dish for those trying to build lean muscles [*].
The fat content in beef tongue comes from a mixture of healthy unsaturated fats as well as 7 grams of saturated fat. Although the beef tongue is not considered a lean meat, it’s a great addition to your diet in moderation.
Here is a breakdown of the nutritional value of beef tongue:
Beef tongue nutrition facts
A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of simmered cow tongue provides [*]:
- Calories: 241
- Total Fat: 19g
- Saturated Fat: 6.9g
- Trans Fat: 0.7g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.6g
- Monounsaturated Fat: 8.6g
- Cholesterol: 112 mg
- Sodium: 55mg
- Potassium: 156mg
- Total Carbohydrates: 0g
- Dietary Fiber: 0g
- Sugars: 0g
- Protein: 16g
- Vitamin A: 0% Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin B6: 7% DV
- Vitamin B12: 44% DV
- Vitamin C: 1.8% DV
- Zinc: 23% DV
- Niacin: 15% DV
- Phosphorus: 12% DV
- Calcium: 0.3% DV
- Iron: 12% DV
- Copper: 6% DV
- Riboflavin: 15% DV
And here’s a closer look at the specific nutrients present in beef tongue:
Rich in B vitamins
Beef tongue contains a lot of B vitamins. These are essential in supporting your metabolism and helping to break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into energy for your body’s tissues [*].
Beef tongue is particularly rich in vitamin B-12, which helps support healthy brain and nerve function by insulating your nerves and keeping your blood cells healthy. Other B vitamins present in beef tongue include B-2, B-3, and B-6.
A 3-ounce portion of cooked beef tongue contains 2.7 micrograms of vitamin B-12, which should cover your required daily intake value [*].
High in choline
Choline, like B vitamins, is essential for your nervous system. While B-12 vitamins help insulate your nerves, choline makes up a component in chemicals responsible for nerve communication. A 3-ounce serving of beef tongue contains 132 milligrams of choline, which is 24 percent of recommended daily intake value for women and 24 percent for men [*].
Beef tongue, just like any other meat, has no carbs — so no starches, fibers, or sugars! That means it is perfect for any low-carb diet like keto or carnivore.
Lots of iron and zinc
Iron and zinc are both crucial components of a healthy diet. Iron is important for making hemoglobin, a protein that supplies oxygen to all parts of your body. An inadequate supply of iron from your diet can cause your body to tap into its iron reserves in the liver, spleen, and bone marrow and cause iron deficiency and anemia [*].
A 100-gram portion of beef tongue contains 2.6mg of iron and makes up 15% of your recommended daily iron intake.
Zinc is a nutrient that supports the healthy function of your immune system and metabolism. Maintaining healthy levels of zinc in your body is also essential for proper wound healing and fighting infections [*].
A 100-gram portion of cooked beef tongue contains 4.1 mg of zinc, which makes up 29% of your recommended daily zinc intake.
A complete protein
Every cell in the body contains protein, so it’s not surprising that protein is often referred to as the building block of life. Your body needs protein to maintain its muscle mass, repair itself after injury, sustain healthy bone mass, maintain hormonal balance, and stay fit [*].
According to the National Academy of Medicine, the amount of protein you should consume daily is 7 grams per every 20 pounds of weight. This means that a person who weighs 150 pounds should consume approximately 55 grams of protein daily.
A 100-gram serving of cooked beef tongue contains around 19 grams of protein.
The nutritional downsides of beef tongue
Beef tongue has a lot of amazing nutrients, but there are some disadvantages, just like with any other food.
A 100-gram portion of beef tongue contains 22 grams of fat, including 8 grams of saturated fat and 1 gram of trans fat. Consuming a high amount of saturated fats can lead to raised levels of harmful LDL cholesterol and increased inflammation [*].
Trans fat can increase the levels of bad LDL cholesterol and decrease the levels of good HDL cholesterol.
It’s also important to consider total fat content. The recommended amount of daily fat intake is 44 to 77 grams for a person who eats a 2,000-calorie diet, and a 3 oz. portion of tongue is a significant percentage of your daily requirement.
How to add beef tongue to your diet
Now that we’ve learned all about beef tongue and its beneficial nutritional properties, how can you cook it? The good news is that there is no shortage of recipes and ideas on how to serve beef tongue, ranging from easy to extravagant.
If you are a novice beef tongue consumer, cooking the dish for yourself may seem intimidating, but cooking organ meats is actually easier than you may think.
Start by thinly slicing the tongue to ensure an even and easy cooking process. If a butcher has not yet peeled the beef tongue you purchased, you can use a knife to do that yourself. Next, braise the sliced beef tongue in a slow cooker until tender. This easy preparation method will leave you with a mild-tasting and tender beef tongue that’s perfect for making sandwiches or laying on top of salads.
The bottom line on beef tongue nutrition
Organ meats, or offal, are legendary for their caloric and nutritional density. Beef tongue is a great introduction to offal because it has a mild and pleasant taste, avoiding the characteristic “funk” that a lot of organ meats have.
You’ll get a lot of B vitamins, iron, zinc, choline, protein, and other nutrients from beef tongue, but like any red meat, you should eat it in moderation alongside a healthy mix of other foods.
The most nutritious beef tongue comes from grass-fed cows
The healthiest and tastiest beef can only come from 100% grass-fed, grass-finished cattle. That means no antibiotics, no GMOs, no dark warehouses — it’s just beef, raised the way it should be raised.
And that starts from the moment the cow is born until the moment it dies. There are no grains or industrialized additives added at any point. Because we know that if you’re doing the right things, you don’t need to pump your cows full of medicine.
And those decisions make a huge impact on both taste and nutrition. So if you want to give beef tongue a shot, don’t settle for something that’s bad for your body and taste buds, get the real thing instead.
See what 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef tongue tastes like.
Nathan Phelps is a writer, ethical foodie, and outdoors-aficionado hailing from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.