8 min read

Tongue: How It’s Eaten Around the World

An essential part of human speech and chewing, the tongue is crucial to our very lives. Aside from holding the taste buds for sour, sweet, salty, savory, and bitter flavors, this amazing part of the mouth also enables us to breastfeed as babies and swallow at all ages, masticate (make food swallowable), create over 30 movements related to language, and guard against germs using the lingual tonsil at its base. Additionally, being made of 8 muscles, the tongue is a very thick digestive organ with the tip being the most sensitive part of the body. This helps you notice hazardous items in your food, like a bone or something sharp, before you swallow it.

The tongue isn’t only a masterful part of the human mouth, though–it’s also considered a delicious delicacy for human mouths to eat in many cultures around the world! While 75% of tongue meat is fat, it’s also high in zinc, vitamin B12, and other nutrients, so it has become popular on the plates of many families, served for all meals including breakfast. We found some of the most interesting examples of this, in honor of the human tongue, and shared them here today.

Take a peek and see if you’d be willing to try tongue meat on your own tongue!

How Tongues are Eaten Around the World

The tongues from many types of animals are eaten worldwide, including the most popular varieties of ox, lamb, pig, calf, and duck. Typically cooked for several hours to break down the tough muscle of the meat, tongues will usually have their skins removed once softened, and are ultimately served sliced or cubed/diced. Let’s take a look at some of the more specific ways different cultures prepare and serve tongue.

Pig Tongue

Pork tongue is usually around five inches long with an expanded tip. They need to be cooked for a good long while, just like all types of tongue, although not for as long as beef or ox tongue requires. They also have skin that must be removed prior to eating.

Globally, pig tongue is eaten in nearly every culture where pigs are raised for meat, but in America, you’ll most often find pork tongue in Latin American, Asian, and Eastern European ethnic markets.

Eastern European cultures like to serve pork tongue with mayonnaise, a mixture of horseradish and mayo, stirred into a cream sauce, or worked into sausages which are typically served at Christmas. Latin American cultures frequently serve them in some form of tacos or in salsa (as is true with the preparation of other types of tongue), while Asian cultures prefer to toss it into a stir fry or serve it stewed, in a salad, or in asado sauce.

Moose Tongue

A delicacy in cultures where moose hunting is common, moose tongue is a treat often served with bread or potatoes in Finland. The Finnish prepare moose tongue by cooking it in seasoned water, then peeling the skin off and smoking it for several hours. Moose tongue is very large, as one would expect, and is often served sliced into thin pieces alongside a berry sauce like lingonberry.

Alaskans and Canadians like to cook and stir it into soups, boil it and slice it up for grilling, boil it and slice it up for sandwiches, or dice it and spoon it into tortillas with the dressings and sides of choice.

Duck Tongue

In order to prepare duck tongue for cooking, you must remove the cartilage or “bone” inside that runs down the center lengthwise, and then simmer it in water with fat for several hours. You cannot fry them with the cartilage still inside or it will explode during frying.

Duck tongue is popular in Asian cultures, where it is prepared in a variety of ways. It can be boiled and then pan-fried or deep-fried until crispy, shallow fried with soy sauce or rice wine and served with rice, steamed, stirred into a stew, marinated in and/or served with Szechuan, black bean, or another Asian sauce, or stir-fried with vegetables and seasoned with ginger, garlic, and onion. Duck tongue is often found on the menu as a side dish or starter in Asian restaurants or as “bar food” in the pubs of other nationalities.

Llama Tongue

One of the top spots for llama meat consumption is Bolivia, a country located in west-central South America bordered by Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and Peru. Particularly popular in the Bolivian Andes, llamas are domesticated and part of many local traditions. They are also eaten.

Part of the traditional Bolivian diet for centuries, llama is now found on the menus of numerous local eateries and can be ordered in even the most exclusive dining venues in the nation. Llama tongue is usually cooked under pressure to help soften the tissue, often served fried or roasted. The Andean part of the country has a cold climate where food is often seasoned with a lot of hot spice to warm things up. You may find llama tongue here seasoned with red chili sauce, and served alongside potato, tomato, onion, rice, or peas.

Llama tongue is growing in popularity in Europe, Australia, and the United States as well.

Lamb Tongue

Found on the menus in nearly every geographical region where lamb is eaten, lamb tongue is a favorite in Middle Eastern, Turkish, Armenian, New Zealand, some parts of the U.S., and other areas.

In these cultures, lamb is often soaked in cold water for up to four hours, boiled, then simmered and slowly cooked for at least an hour for use in stews, soups, or filling in flatbreads, or pan-fried and served with veggies, lentils, grains of various types, or potatoes (usually after being confited.) Lamb tongue is also pickled quite often. They are frequently sold in packs of 4 to 6 in ethnic markets and are a bit on the pricey side. With these preparations, the skin will need to be removed (usually after they’ve been cooked, then cooled), and then chilled in the refrigerator for ease of slicing and fat removal.

Beef or Ox Tongue

Beef and ox tongue are the same, although it may appear that they are different in some recipes and writings. Eaten in many cultures, the most beef tongue is devoured in Japan, predominantly in a dish called gyutan, which is served in numerous restaurants countrywide, especially in the Sendai region.

Beef, ox, and calf tongue are also enjoyed in Mexican, Romanian, Russian, Portuguese, Persian, Philippine, Albanian, German, English, Jewish, and other cultures, where they are prepared in a variety of ways.

Below we’ll take a look at some of the different types of preparation the different cultures use in preparing beef, ox, or calf tongue.

Ways Japanese People Eat Tongue

Beef tongue is served in over 22,000 restaurants in Japan. Popular in Japan in the 1950s after a less than warm initial reception, this traditional Japanese dish of Gyutan, involves sliced beef tongue, soy sauce, sake, sesame oil, yuzu kosho (Japanese citrus chili paste, most easily found in Japanese markets), and yuzu juice (a hard to find citrus fruit, or can substitute lemon juice). The sauce is poured over the tongue slices with onion grated on top for marinating, then grilled over charcoal on both sides.

Ways Jewish People Eat Tongue

Jewish immigrants brought their beef tongue preparation techniques to America with them over 150 years ago. Popular Jewish delis serve cured tongue cold on sandwiches or in a rich broth with mushrooms, radishes, ramp, and habanero peppers.

A favorite Jewish tongue preparation for pickled beef tongue (pictured) process, involves a lengthy process that takes approximately two weeks and changing out boiling water three times followed by simmering, cooling, and slicing, then finally serving either hot or cold.

Ways Mexican and Latin Cultures Eat Tongue

Commonly found in Mexican cuisine, beef tongue is used in several concoctions, including the very common tongue tacos, as well as a Mexican and Panamanian favorite, Lengua de Vaca, pictured above. To prepare the tongue in Latin American cultures, you’ll most often find the usual extended boiling time for tenderizing, followed by peeling the skin off and trimming visible fat off. Slicing the cooked tongue up and tossing it in with peppers, onion, other veggies, etc., are the norm here.

Ways Portuguese People Eat Tongue

Portuguese beef tongue, which has been a remarkable delicacy in the region of the Azores Islands (a Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, is often stewed or poached and then warmed in a prepared sauce.

Portuguese spices are used in most preparations, as well as ghee (clarified butter). The image above is a popular dish, tongue in paprika sauce, which features the flavors of crushed allspice berries and peppercorns, and a warming sauce of paprika, garlic, cinnamon, tomatoes, and more.

Ways Iranian/Persians Eat Tongue

Often served with tomato or the traditional saffron sauce with vegetables on the side, Persian-style beef tongue is guaranteed to be full of rich flavor.

Tongue in Iran is also offered in delis shredded on sandwiches alongside tomato, mustard, pickle, and crushed potato chips.

A winter delicacy in Iran, served as part of a more involved dish called Kaleh Pahcheh, or Head and Hooves, includes the whole head, brain, hooves, etc. served as a breakfast soup.

Persian tongue tacos, pictured above, are called Zaboon in Farsi, and call for lemon juice, turmeric, salt, pepper, cumin, and other spices to finally be served alongside the traditional lavash bread.

Here are a few more ways different cultures eat tongue with links to some of their favorite recipes:

Romanian Limba cu Masline, known in English as Tongue with Olives in Tomato Sauce, is often served over mashed potatoes.

Beef Tongue in Aspic a la Russe, traditionally called zalivnoy yazyk, or jellied tongue, became popular through the influence of French chefs living and working in Russia. It’s served as an appetizer on holidays like Christmas and New Year’s on specially shaped serving ware.

Braised Ox Tongue with Cannellini Beans and Green Sauce is a British dish traditionally served in the springtime. Preparation involves 4 hours of simmering. Leftovers can be served on sandwiches with pickles or in cold salads.

A Filipino dish, this recipe for Lengua Estofano actually translates from Spanish terms to mean Tongue Stew. Originating in a Southern region of Spain, it was brought to the Philippines by colonists.

This variation of Ochsenmaulsalat, or “ox-mouth salad”, known in English as German Tongue Salad is made with pickled beef tongue. It’s prepared by slow boiling the tongue with vinegar, then mixing with spices, oil, and onion and chilling until serving time.

Called smørrebrød in Danish, a favorite open-faced sandwich of the Danes is the tongue salad smørrebrød. This recipe for Danish Tongue Salad Open-Faced Sandwich is made with cooked chopped tongue mixed with butter, dijon mustard, boiled egg yolks, and spices, then served on buttered Danish rye bread with sliced raw onions.

Langue de Boeuf en Sauce (Beef Tongue in Sauce) calls for soaking the cow’s tongue for a full day, changing the soaking water several times along the way, and then parboiling and removing the skin, you boil it for 5 hours in a broth of salt, pepper, shallots, and parsley. A roux follows with mushrooms, cornichons (tiny French pickles), and other foods to be ladled over the prepared tongue when serving.

Is Tongue Delicious?

Well, there you have it. Turns out tongue is served all over the world in a wide range of ways. Have you ever heard of any of these recipes, and would you ever try them? Take a picture and email us or let us know at your next appointment and remember to keep your tongue clean - meaning to brush it gently also when you brush your teeth. (Twice daily plus flossing, remember?) See you at Jungle Roots!

At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.

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