We're well aware that the terms "delicious" and "disgusting" are subjective. One man's "Best Burger Ever!" is another man's "Craptastic Beefy Abortion." We know. We're going by general popularity here, dishes that most of you eat, yet most likely significantly fewer of you are familiar with the production of. We'll be avoiding things that only bug hippies, like RBGH, high fructose corn syrup, and any number of preservatives and dyes that are rumored to poison your chakras and muddy your third eye. We'll also be avoiding bologna and hot dogs, because pretty much everyone is well aware that they're made out of elbows and assholes, and most of us are cool with it. Seriously, using every part of the animal, y'all: It's what the Native Americans would do, if we hadn't killed them all.
1. Jell-O™ (and other gelatin-based foods)
Is there any dessert more fun than Jell-O™? It wiggles, it jiggles, it comes in a kaleidoscope of colors, and there's always room for it. A uniquely appealing texture and a variety of fun ways to shape and mold it mean that most of us have had a soft spot for gelatin-based desserts ever since we were little. And it looks so pure! There's no discolorations or uneven spots or grit or chunks or anything, it's the same color and consistency all the way through. How on earth could such a beloved food betray us?
The Secret Ingredient: Skin and bones
Gelatin is made from collagen, which is made by boiling the bones, skin, connective tissues (like ligaments and cartilage), and organs of various animals, usually cows, but sometimes pigs, lambs and, yes, horses. Of course, the collagen goes through so many processes of purification and acidization, the U.S. government no longer even classifies it as a meat or animal product by the time it's ready for consumption, which sort of seems like the U.S. government is missing the point on why you label things "meat or animal," but whatever. What we're really driving at here is that every time you enjoy a gelatin dessert, you're eating something that got its start as "calf's foot jelly," which is the most accurately descriptive food name since Krusty's Partially Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverage. And yes, collagen is the stuff they shot Melanie Griffith's face full of until she started looking like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Remember that the next time you watch an Antonio Banderas movie; when the poor guy goes home, he snuggles up next to a face full of beef goop.
A versatile dish, sweetbreads are usually served breaded and fried, and do tend to taste sort of sweet, for meat. They're stuffed into pâtés, grilled into Argentinean asado, served in bread, and go well with risotto or pasta. More popular in Europe and Latin America than in the U.S., sweetbreads have been around since at least the 16th century, and derive their name from the Old English word for "flesh."
The Secret Ingredient: Glands
Before it gets all spiced up, rolled in batter, fried and covered in tasty sauces, sweetbreads start out as the thyroid and thamus glands of a calf or lamb. Yep, that means those little baby critters had their throats and hearts torn out for you to feast upon, which wouldn't be so bad if it didn't make us think of the part in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that was almost single-handedly responsible for the invention of the PG-13 rating. Yeah. Now imagine if Mola Ram had just taken a big ol' bite like Chairman Kaga in the opening credits of Iron Chef.
Not only does the word "barbacoa" provide the historical and linguistic basis for the more familiar English word "barbecue," it's even become popular in its own right. Traditionally made from a cow or sheep slow-roasted over a hole in the ground lined with maguey leaves, barbacoa is famous for being tender and savory as hell. We tend to eat it in tacos all the time, and we're particularly lucky here in Houston, where good barbacoa is relatively easy to find.
The Secret Ingredient: Cow Face
Note the description above provides the "traditional" cooking method. Here in the U.S., barbacoa is usually not made by the traditional method. Stateside, we prefer to make our barbacoa by cooking an entire cow's head, peeling the meat off, and putting it on tacos hopefully without anybody finding out. Robb Walsh ran an article on the process some time ago, and it remains famous for receiving a storm of complaints regarding our photo content. Look, meals are only supposed to be pretty when they reach your plate. They're under no obligation to be nice to look at in their raw, unprepared forms. If seeing the process of meat preparation makes you lose your appetite, then maybe you shouldn't be eating meat.
Aside from being a Puerto Rican boy band popular among child molesters, menudo is famous for being a cheap, easy-to-make soup favored by the poor, including one Fred Sandford. It's made with lime, onions, cilantro, oregano and hominy, and is served in a clear or red chile-based broth. If you've ever been to a Mexican market, you've probably seen the huge, frozen blocks of menudo meat they have lying around and wondered to yourself "What is menudo meat, exactly?" Aw, jeez. If only you hadn't added "exactly," we could have simply told you "beef" and spared you some grief (and that unintentional rhyme). So just remember, Mr. Specific: you asked.
The Secret Ingredient: Tripe
Tripe is meat that's been peeled off a cow's stomach. Before it gets washed, it's usually still soaked in the contents of said stomach a.k.a. undigested food a.k.a. puke. Yes, the meat used in menudo spends most of its time in a brine of cow vomit, and you can imagine how that smells. The unwashed variety is commonly used in pet food, which is great news for those among you who ever scarfed down some dog food on a dare. Frat boys, we're looking in your direction. After an extensive, meticulous cleaning process, tripe is finally fit for human consumption, and winds up in a lot of Middle Eastern and European dishes, as well as andouille, the popular spicy sausage. But come on, if you didn't know sausage was made from gross shit, you had to have been living on the moon.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
5. Worcestershire sauce
Worcestershire (pronounced "wooster" because English people are crazy) has never been all that popular in America, at least until the recipe was heavily modified and dubbed "A1 sauce." Adding a savory tang to meat, especially beef, Worcestershire sauce is filled with universally accepted, wholesome ingredients like malt vinegar, molasses, salt, sugar and garlic. And yet, a little bit goes a long way. Did you ever over-saturate a dish with too much Worcestershire sauce and feel like you were pickling yourself by eating it? What could possibly give the otherwise innocuous brown sauce such a mighty kick?
The Secret Ingredient: Anchovies
Yep, it's fish. But not just any fish: It's those powerful little salt bombs which people have been refusing to put on their pizzas for as long as anyone can remember. Orthodox Jews won't put Worcestershire sauce on meat, because they're forbidden to eat meat and fish in the same dish, and you can kind of see their point. Fish sauce on beef? It doesn't make any sense, and seems downright unsavory. Do they at least take the bones out before they grind the little guys up into the sauce? If not, does that mean Worcestershire sauce... is part Jell-O™? Whoa. We totally just blew our own minds.