What Are Sweetbreads?

The gap in between the words ‘sweet’ and ‘breads’ is of crucial importance, as sweetbreads, and sweet breads are two completely different things, and will leave you with quite an unwelcome surprise if you’re not sure what you are ordering. 

What Are Sweetbreads?

While sweet breads are, as the name suggests, breads that have a sweet taste, sweetbreads are completely different. Sweetbreads come from the organs of an animal, such as a calf or lamb (You might want to check out muttons here). 

This article will be discussing what exactly sweetbreads are, and how they’re served and prepared. 

What Are They? 

Essentially, sweetbreads consist of meat from either the thymus gland, or the pancreas glands, of an animal.

The thymus gland sweetbreads are referred to as neck or throat sweetbreads, and the ones from the pancreas glands are called the heart sweetbreads.

The most common ones are from veal and lamb, but you can also find some beef and pork sweetbreads. 

They are a type of offal, which refers to the internal organs of an animal. The younger the animal, the lighter the color of the sweetbreads, and the more delicate the texture and flavor will be. 

What Do They Taste Like? 

The texture of sweetbreads is normally tender, moist, and smooth, with a flavor that is relatively mild, but creamy. 

When cooking, the outside becomes crispy very easily, which gives a lovely contrast to the soft, moist, inside. 

How Do You Prepare Sweetbreads? 

The first thing you need to do, before preparing your sweetbreads, is remove any impurities. This involves removing the membrane, which is a sheath that covers the meat. 

In order to do this, you should soak them in cold water for a few hours to remove any blood.

This allows the organ to firm up, and makes it easier to remove the membrane. You can do this with a sharp knife. 

Once the membranes have been removed, some chefs like to blanch it in boiling water, and then shock it in ice water.

This is a good method for removing any extra membranes that are tougher and haven’t been peeled off. 

Once they’ve been blanched, the traditional method of preparation will have you chill them before pressing them into a uniform thickness, but this is not necessary. 

When they are ready to be cooked, there are a variety of ways to cook them. They can be braised, grilled, breaded, seared and fried. 

They cook relatively quickly, and it is hard to overcook them, which is a great point for beginners! As the meat can be quite rich, many people enjoy serving them with some acidity, such as capers, or lemons. 

Why Are They Named ‘Sweetbreads’?

Interestingly, the origins of their peculiar name is not well-known. Some state that their earned their name as some feel their taste is more sweet, rather than savory. 

Sweetbread Recipes 

If this article has piqued your interest, you may be eager to try your hand at cooking your own sweetbreads. Below are a few recipes to get you started on your sweetbread journey! 

What Are Sweetbreads?


If you’re a fan of chicken hearts, then this recipe is for you, as the taste of the final product is very similar to that of a chicken heart. 

The ingredients are very simple. All you will need is 1 pound of beef sweetbreads, all-purpose flour, oil, salt and pepper. 

You’ll begin by tearing your sweetbreads apart into little pieces, around 1 inch per section. Then, rinse in water, and dip them into the flour. 

Then, you are to fry each section after dipping it into the flour in ½ an inch of oil until they are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, and you’re done. 

This is the perfect recipe if it is your first time making sweetbreads, as it is incredibly easy and will give you a delicious result. 

Pan-Fried Lamb Sweetbreads

This recipe is for those of you who are ready to try something a little more fancy.

These sweetbreads are accompanied by shallots, pea purée, fresh peas and asparagus shears, for a lovely, healthy, light summer meal. 

You’ll also be making a delicious lamb sauce that contains shallots, garlic, rosemary, lemongrass, lamb stock, beef stock, and Madeira. 

To cook the sweetbreads, simply heat up some water to a boil, and blanch the sweetbreads for around 30 seconds. After this, place them in some iced water. This will stop them from cooking. 

Then, you are to peel the outer layer of membrane and any sinew that may be lingering. Next, you are going to fry them in rapeseed oil after dusting them with some seasoned flour (seasoning in recipe link). 

Keep turning them over until they are golden brown, this should equate to around 4 minutes on each side. 

Sautéed Sweetbreads 

This is another very simple recipe, that involves sautéing your sweetbreads with some butter until they turn that delicious golden brown. 

You are then going to remove them from the heat and set them aside, before adding more butter to the skillet, along with onions and salt.

Keep stirring this until it all goes brown, and add some chilies, mustard seeds, and red peppers. 

Once these ingredients have mixed together well, add your sweetbreads back to the mixture, and stir together. 

Once hot, you can serve along with some parsley or cilantro. 

This is a very flavorsome, delicious meal that is put together very simply. If you’d like to make it more filling, serve with some rice, or potatoes! 

Final Thoughts 

Sweetbreads are part of the offal family, which are the internal organs of an animal that are edible. 

The best sweetbreads come from younger animals, as the meat will be more tender, and the taste more delicate. 

There are a number of ways to prepare this part of the animal, but you must remember to remove the membrane and any other impurities before cooking.

This can be made easier by soaking it in water before peeling it off. 

We hope you enjoyed learning about sweetbreads, and have taken some inspiration from the recipes provided! 

Jeff Pratt
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