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A dish of crusted sweetbreads

Sweetbread is a culinary name for the thymus (also called throat, gullet, or neck sweetbread) or pancreas (also called stomach, belly or gut sweetbread), typically from calf (ris de veau) and lamb (ris d'agneau).[1][2] The "heart" sweetbreads are more spherical in shape, while the "throat" sweetbreads are more cylindrical in shape.[3] As the thymus is replaced by fibrous tissue in older animals, only pancreatic sweetbreads come from beef and pork.[4] Like other edible non-muscle from animal carcasses, sweetbreads may be categorized as offal, fancy meat, or variety meat.[4]:4,23

Various other glands used as food may also sometimes be called "sweetbreads", including the parotid gland ("cheek" or "ear" sweetbread), the sublingual glands ("tongue" sweetbreads or "throat bread") as well as ovary and testicles.[5][6]

One common preparation of sweetbreads involves soaking in salt water, then poaching in milk, after which the outer membrane is removed. Once dried and chilled, they are often breaded and fried.[7][8] They are also used for stuffing or in pâtés. They are grilled in many Latin American cuisines, such as in the Argentine asado, and served in bread in Turkish cuisine.

The word "sweetbread" is first attested in the 16th century, but the etymology of the name is unclear.[9] "Sweet" is perhaps used since the thymus is sweet and rich-tasting, as opposed to savory-tasting muscle flesh.[10] "Bread" may come from brede, "roasted meat"[11] or from the Old English brǣd ("flesh" or "meat").

See also[edit]

  • Head cheese, or brawn: typically, meat from the head of a calf or pig


  1. ^ Oxford Companion to Food; Oxford English Dictionary s.v.
  2. ^ Spaull, Susan; Bruce-Gardyne, Lucinda (2003). Leiths Techniques Bible (1 ed.). Bloomsbury. p. 451. ISBN 0-7475-6046-3.
  3. ^ EricT_CulinaryLore (17 May 2012). "What Are Sweetbreads?". culinarylore.com. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  4. ^ a b Herbert W. Ockerman, Conly L. Hansen, Animal By-Product Processing & Utilization, 2000, ISBN 1566767776, p. 65–66, 271
  5. ^ W. A. Newman Dorland, The American Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 1922 full text
  6. ^ The Medical Age, quoting the British Medical Journal, 11:702, 1893 full text
  7. ^ Sweetbread BBC food
  8. ^ "Sweetbreads", British Food: A History
  9. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989
  10. ^ "Words to the Wise". Take Our Word for It (176): 2. 14 November 2002. Retrieved 2012-02-06.
  11. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989, s.v. "brede"