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I had a student ask me about the following. I began to confuse myself to be honest. I know that we can use the phrase "beef heart." But what about when talk about sheep heart - do I ask my butcher for sheep heart or mutton heart? And what about pig heart/pork heart? Is there a good reason to use one or the other? I thought perhaps because a pig has a heart but a pork does not have a heart, so pig heart is correct. Pork can't have a heart since it is the general term for all pig meat. What about other animal hearts? chicken - I know we can use chicken heart. We would not say poultry heart. But what about duck or goose? Any ideas are helpful as this comes from a student who lives in a country that often eats organ meats. So going to a butcher and asking for sheep's liver is commonplace. Thank you.

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  • As a native speaker, I have no idea what the correct phrase is, but I'm fairly confident that if I walked into a butcher's and asked for a pig heart or sheep heart I wouldn't get a strange look.
    – YonKuma
    Dec 11, 2023 at 13:22
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    As a native English speaker from the UK (Scotland specifically), where offal is still very popular, for me it's usually lamb's heart/lamb hearts. Mutton is fairly rare today in the UK for some reason, presumably because nobody really enjoys the innards of a tough old sheep these days. One exception here in Scotland is that we say "sheep's pluck" (the heart, lungs and liver), and sheep's stomach. These are the tradtional ingredients for haggis. If you ask for sheep's heart/sheep hearts, you will still be understood. Nobody will judge you.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 11, 2023 at 16:22
  • Also I think rather than "beef hearts" I would most likely say ox hearts, oxtail, ox liver, ox tongue, etc. Again, either would be understood. Fancy some ox tripe? Anybody? LOL
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 11, 2023 at 16:29
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    @Lambie - Yeah, but not ox suet strangely. That's generally beef suet. Why? Who knows! Mind you, in Scots dialect, cattle are called kye, and one cow is a coo, and bull rhymes with dull, so nothing should be surprising here. I've also heard New Zealanders call beds bids.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 11, 2023 at 18:19
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    @Lambie - suet is specifically fat from around the kidneys/loins of the animal. It's popular here for making suet puddings, such as clootie dumpling, which is a rich fruit dumpling made from flour, sugar, beef suet, dried fruits, and then wrapped in a cloth (hence clootie), and steamed. It's also a traditional ingredient of mince meat which is used as a filling for Christmas spiced fruit pies (called mince pies), which are popular all over the UK.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 11, 2023 at 18:39

2 Answers 2

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In the UK, at least, the traditional names for meats, e.g. 'pork' for pig meat, 'beef' for cow meat, 'mutton/lamb' for sheep meat are not usually used for named parts or organs so pig kidneys or cheeks or trotters, ox/pig/lamb liver, sheep heart, cow heel. You can still buy bull pizzles but I think they are given to dogs in modern times. Also duck and goose liver (usually in pâté) and you can buy tubs of chicken livers. Often a possessive form is seen, e.g. pig's liver.

The only exception I can think of is that bovine hearts are called 'beef hearts' for eating by humans, although I have seen 'cow hearts' sold for dissection by biology students.

Also, in the UK, many butchers will deny that they sell 'mutton' (older sheep meat), asserting that all of their sheep meat is 'lamb' (from younger animals).

Some unusual organs have strange names that might be to disguise their origin, or at least soften the shock... lamb 'pluck' is the heart, lungs, and liver, with sometimes the trachea added. Sheep, lamb, cow, calf or pig 'sweetbreads' are the pancreas and thymus glands, sometimes called 'heart' and 'throat' sweetbreads respectively. Brains are just, well, brains. My mother told me poorer people in London used to buy horse or cow 'liver and lights' (liver and lungs) up to about 100 years ago.

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    When I was a child only 50 years ago, mutton was very common - the cheapest meat available, and it was used specifically for soups/stews/stock. Now you can't really find it, at least not without going to considerable trouble, certainly not in a supermarket, but you can probably order it from a proper butcher.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 11, 2023 at 16:49
  • tubs of chicken livers? Perhaps small container is better, don't you think?
    – Lambie
    Dec 11, 2023 at 17:47
  • @Lambie - 'Tub' is the normal UK grocery-store and meat trade term, and, I think, widely used. 'Chicken Liver (Approx. 1kg per tub) £4.25'. The smaller tubs might be 250g or 500g. They have them in supermarkets. The 'tubs' are made of plastic and are round, square, or rectangular in shape viewed from above. You can get stuff like butter, margarine ('spread'), honey, etc. in those tubs too. If they are nice we keep them to be free 'Tupperware'. I have found 'tubs of chicken livers' all over the world on the web, inclusdng the UK, USA, South Africa, Fiji, Australia. Dec 11, 2023 at 18:59
  • @MichaelHarvey I know what a tub is. I would tend to say container because for me, a tub is larger than a container. I see one of these: webstaurantstore.com/779/deli-take-out-containers.html when I say container. Smaller than a tub. The marketers and sellers use the term tub on the internet, but I would never say myself: I bought a tub of butter.
    – Lambie
    Dec 11, 2023 at 19:13
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    For some background, I'd always heard this explanation for why we call the animal by one name and the meat by another: The Saxon farmers raised the animal, but it was served to the Norman lords under a french name (boeuf, porc). Makes sense that the offal would get the Saxon names. Dec 11, 2023 at 22:24
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Eating offal has largely fallen from favour in the UK, so while farmers and butchers may still use certain terminology like 'beef heart', most people would not be familiar with such terms. Even my 80-year old father, who grew up on a farm and likely remembers when offal was more frequently eaten, told me a story only recently about being served a "cow's heart" while in a French hospital. The only offal still commonly eaten is ox's kidney, usually cooked and served along with beef steak, but even then it is usually just called 'kidney' and I'd bet most people who eat it don't even realise it is from an ox. There are probably other exceptions, too - some farming communities take pride in maintaining old traditions in food and I've seen some unusual things on menus whilst travelling around the country.

I would say the best way to ask for something specific like a sheep's liver would be to use the name of the animal, not the meat. Most good butchers will be able to provide anything and are quite used to the occasional unusual request.

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    My Civil Service canteen in Bristol serves lamb's liver and bacon for lunch once every two weeks and it is very popular. Dec 11, 2023 at 20:10
  • @MichaelHarvey I ate in a civil service canteen for 7 years and 24 years in a hospital canteen and never saw anything more offally than a steak and kidney pud. I guess it's a regional thing.
    – Astralbee
    Dec 11, 2023 at 20:17
  • they have faggots, peas and chips in the offal spot too. Dec 11, 2023 at 21:16

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