Last week I mentioned that I purchased over 20 lb of beef liver with the intent of including it as a regular part of our diets, and why. Because the liver is the organ that processes the toxins of the body, for a long time I avoided it since I don’t have any option of getting organic or grass-fed beef liver and I didn’t want to ingest any additional toxins. I kept reading about all the nutrients liver was rich in, and it was a little frustrating trying to weigh the options: was it better to eat liver as a high nutrient food even though there would be toxins along with it, or don’t have any of the nutritional benefits but avoid the toxins?
The nutritional challenge that I often encounter is that what I see recommended tend to be ideals, and not helpful when the options aren’t fitting into those ideals. For example, the ideal dairy is raw milk (which can also be fermented into kefir/yogurt or made into cheese) from grass fed cows (and that’s without touching on the A1/A2 cow issue). But what if you can only get raw milk from grain-fed cows, or organic pasteurized milk – then what’s better? What if you have a limited budget and/or the options for ideal foods aren’t accessible for you? Questions like this are hard to determine since there’s not a lot of information out there on these in between kind of questions, but these are the kind of discussions that I think are would be so helpful to have, so that people can make educated choices about what is the best choice in a non-ideal situation.
I’ve contacted the company where I get kosher grass-fed beef from (Golden West Glatt), and they don’t sell liver. I let them know that as a customer I would be very interested in seeing that become an item that is offered, and added that I’m sure there are others that share my interest. Then I contacted the only other company in the US (that I’m aware of) that sells kosher grass-fed meat (Kol Foods), and they told me they only have chicken liver (frozen). I specifically wanted beef liver because of its nutritional composition, and I also specifically wanted fresh liver, not frozen liver.
Then I spoke to two local butchers. One just began offering grass-fed beef from a local farmer, but said he can’t get the livers from him. The other told me that: a) if I wanted organic liver, I could buy it for about $7 lb and I would have to buy a forequarter. I asked how much that was, and he said, “A lot!” I reminded him that I wanted 20 lb and asked how much more a forequarter would be, and he said, “A lot!” I think he told me the amount in pounds – perhaps 80?? It wasn’t feasible for me financially or practically so it didn’t stick in my mind. Though he usually sells only frozen liver, he told me he buys it fresh and freezes it immediately, so he could call me as soon as his order came in and I’d be able to have it fresh. This was the option I finally settled on.
Here are a couple of important facts about liver for the kosher consumer: 1) since it’s an organ meat that is filled with blood, and the laws of kosher eating forbid eating even a drop of blood, it has to be prepared in a special way called kashering. There are a few steps involved in that, and even when preparing it in the proper way, you can’t cook it in the same pots or pans that you usually use (because the blood that cooks out will make your kosher dishes and pots non-kosher). 2) If you buy raw liver that has been frozen, it can’t be reheated after kashering. (This same restriction applies to fresh liver that isn’t kashered within three days from the time the animal has been killed – so you have to be ready and able to kasher all that you buy promptly if you want to eat it in heated dishes.) That means you can’t cook with it. Practically I was thinking of sauteing liver with onions, combining (roasted and ground) liver with ground beef dishes, etc, but none of those are options if you buy frozen liver. Most people (even some rabbis) aren’t aware of this since few people kasher their own liver any more and it’s a question that rarely comes up. The only way I can think of eating liver without reheating it is as chopped liver. That’s okay for once a week, but I wanted to include it more regularly than that.
I got 20 lb, thinking that once I had to prepare the liver, I might as well do it in a large amount. What a mistake. I am so not doing that again. The economies of scale that I usually assume will be present didn’t apply in this case. We bought a small $20 charcoal grill to use expressly to kasher liver (since you can’t use a pan that you use for anything else, and if you use the oven you have to kasher it after use – I wanted to keep it as simple as possible). After rinsing the livers in fresh water, we laid the slices over the hot coals and waited for it to roast. This took a long, long time. It took three hours the first night, and then about another 8 hours the next day to finish all twenty pounds of liver – I had to have someone outside watching the grill all day until it was finished. But at least it was all done within the 72 hour limit and all of it is kosher for Pesach.
Afterward my husband spoke to a friend of his who kashers his own liver, and he said they get it sliced 1/2 inch thick. The liver I bought was cut it in 1″ slices, which I figured was fine since that’s how the butcher cuts it for all of the liver he sells. The thickness seems to have been a big part of why it took such an extremely long time. For now I’m glad I have enough liver prepared that I won’t have to think about doing this again for a little while, but it’s good to know how to be more efficient.
However, I know there’s got to be a better way. I just can’t imagine that generations of women were doing this. I can’t conceive of it having been a popular traditional Jewish food if it took this much time. There’s got to be a way to roast it over hot flames that will be fast, instead of slowly roasting over hot charcoal. Then again, past generations probably had more patience for things that took a long time than I do.
Back to the question of the toxins – I didn’t come across enough information that I can point to data to back up my decision. Maybe my conclusion is wrong, and it’s possible I’ll shift back to my previous position of staying away from it at some point in the future. I did read that even if the cow was grain-fed, the nutrient value was still very high. What are some of the nutrients in liver? It’s high in B vitamins, high in folate, zinc, and iron (in a well-absorbed form). Every single one of these are important for emotional balance and to counter stress and depression (both epidemic in our modern day society). It’s a great energy booster, too!
I wanted to include more nutrient dense foods and liver seemed to be a good choice, and there weren’t a lot of other foods that we could eat or weren’t already eating. Cod liver oil isn’t certified kosher, we already eat drink raw milk (as well as kefir, cheese), fermented vegetables, limit grains and prepare grains, beans and seeds in a way that reduces the phytic acid content, we try to eat natural chicken and grass-fed beef as much as our budget allows (not exclusively), we have lots of bone broths – and though I don’t see non-organic liver as ideal, I want to benefit from all of those nutrients it has and hope that I’m making a choice that will be beneficial to our health.
I wish I came across studies that directly addressed the question about if there’s a benefit to eating liver if it comes from industrially raised animals. My non-scientific reasoning was that it’s been eaten for a long time as a valuable food, and all of those people haven’t been eating and benefiting from it only in pre-industrialized societies from pastured animals. I’ve pondered a lot about if it’s beneficial to eat animal protein from industrially raised animals or be vegetarian, and believe that you’re nutritionally better off with CAFO meat or eggs than without animal products in your diet at all. Kosher meat, even when produced industrially, is still qualitatively better than non-kosher meat in the same class (because of the kosher laws that disallow diseased animals to be used, animals that would pass goverment inspection). Hence my decision that including kosher non-organic liver would still be of benefit.
This isn’t something I’m committed to no matter what, so if any of you have come across information assessing the benefits or lack thereof from liver from non-organically fed animals, please don’t hesitate to share it! Also, if you’re ever kashered your own liver and can share your tips about how to do it more efficiently, I’m all ears!
Edited to add – thanks to Cara who linked to the following article, I was delighted to read: “One of the roles of the liver is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons); but the liver does not store toxins (emphasis mine). Poisonous compounds that the body cannot neutralize and eliminate are likely to lodge in the fatty tissues and the nervous system. The liver is not a storage organ for toxins but it is a storage organ for many important nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron). These nutrients provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins.” So now I can enjoy liver without any hesitations!