Brain (as food)

Brain (as food)

Like most other internal organs, the brain can serve as nourishment. This includes the brains of pigs, cattle, monkeys, and in rare circumstances, humans. In many cultures, different types of brain are considered a delicacy.

Cultural consumption

In the Southern United States, canned pork brain in gravy can be purchased for consumption as food. This form of brain is often fried with scrambled eggs to produce the famous "Eggs n' Brains". [cite web | author = Lukas, Paul | title = Inconspicuous Consumption: Mulling Brains | work = New York magazine | url = | accessdaymonth = 14 October | accessyear = 2005 ] . They are part of the menu in many family owned restaurants thoughout the region.

The brain of animals also features in French cuisine such as in the dish "tête de veau", or "head of calf". Although it sometimes consists only of the outer meat of the skull and jaw, the full meal includes the brain, tongue, and glands.

Similar delicacies from around the world include Mexican "tacos de sesos" made with cattle brain as well as squirrel brain in the US South. [cite web | url = | work = | title = Weird Foods: Mammal | accessdaymonth = 14 October | accessyear = 2005 ] The Anyang tribe of Cameroon practiced a tradition in which a new tribal chief would consume the brain of a hunted gorilla while another senior member of the tribe would eat the heart. [cite web | url = | author = Meder, Angela | title = Gorillas in African Culture and Medicine | work = Gorilla Journal | accessdaymonth = 14 October | accessyear = 2005 ] Indonesian cuisine specialty in Minangkabau cuisine also served beef brain in a gravy coconut milk named gulai otak (beef brain curry). Roasted or fried goat brain is eaten in the south of India and some parts of northern India. In Cuban cuisine, "brain fritters" made by coating pieces of brain with bread crumbs and then frying them.

In India, certain restaurants serve brain as "bheja fry", literally brain fry. It's cooked in its own fat along with standard base used in curry.

Risks of eating brain

Fat and cholesterol

Consuming the brain and other nerve tissue of animals is not without risks. The first problem is that the makeup of the brain is 60% fat due to large quantities of myelin (which itself is 70% fat) insulating the axons of neurons. [cite web | url = | title = Nutritional Summary: Notes Taken From a Recent Autism Society Meeting | author = Dorfman, Kelly | work = Diet and Autism | accessdaymonth = 14 October | accessyear = 2005 ] As an example, a 140 g can of "pork brains in milk gravy", a single serving, contains 3500 milligrams of cholesterol, 1170% of the USRDA rating. [cite web | url = | title = Pork Brains in Milk Gravy | accessdaymonth = 14 October | accessyear = 2005 ]


Brain consumption can result in contracting fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathies such as Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other prion diseases in humans and mad cow disease in cattle. [cite journal | last = Collinge | first = John | date = 2001 | title = Prion diseases of humans and animals: their causes and molecular basis | journal = Annual Review of Neuroscience | volume = 24 | pages = 519–50 | url = | doi = 10.1146/annurev.neuro.24.1.519 | pmid = 11283320 ] Another prion disease called kuru has been traced to a funerary ritual among the Fore people of Papua New Guinea in which those close to the dead would eat the brain of the deceased to create a sense of immortality. [cite journal | last = Collins | first = S | coauthors = McLean CA, Masters CL | date = 2001 | title = Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome,fatal familial insomnia, and kuru: a review of these less common human transmissible spongiform encephalopathies | journal = Journal of Clinical Neuroscience | volume = 8 | issue = 5 | ages = 387–97 | url = | pmid = 11535002 ] Some archaeological evidence suggests that the mourning rituals of European Neanderthals also involved the consumption of the brain. [cite book | url = | title = The Aztec Treasure House | last = Connell | first = Evan S. | publisher = Counterpoint Press | year = 2001 | id = ISBN 1-58243-162-0 ] Because of the risk of being infected by prions one should always wear gloves when handling brains.

Wild animals

It is also well-known in the hunting community that the brain of wild animals should not be consumed, due to the risk of chronic wasting disease. The brain is still useful to hunters, in that most animals have enough brain matter for use in the tanning of their own hides.


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