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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 (French: ris de veau) or lamb (ris d'agneau).[1][2][3] The "heart" sweetbreads are more spherical in shape, while the "throat" sweetbreads are more cylindrical in shape.[4] As the thymus is replaced by fibrous tissue in older animals, only pancreatic sweetbreads come from beef and pork.[5] Like other edible non-muscle from animal carcasses, sweetbreads may be categorized as offal, "fancy meat", or "variety meat".[5]: 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.[6][7]

Sweetbread is a common Iranian street food (Persian: خوش‌گوشت, xošgūšt) and is often served as a kebab.[8] 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.[9][10] They are also used for stuffing or in pâtés. They are grilled in many Latin American cuisines, such as in the Argentine asado, floured and pan-fried in Greece (sheep's thymus is usually used), 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.[2] Sweet is perhaps used since the thymus is sweet and rich-tasting, as opposed to savory-tasting muscle flesh.[11] Bread may come from Middle English brede, meaning "roast meat".[2]

See also[edit]

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


  1. ^ "sweetbread". Oxford English Dictionary. March 2022. Retrieved 24 September 2022.
  2. ^ a b c "brede". Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). 1989.
  3. ^ Spaull, Susan; Bruce-Gardyne, Lucinda (2003). Leiths Techniques Bible (1st ed.). Bloomsbury. p. 451. ISBN 0-7475-6046-3.
  4. ^ EricT (17 May 2012). "What Are Sweetbreads?". culinarylore.com. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  5. ^ a b Herbert W. Ockerman; Conly L. Hansen (2000). Animal By-Product Processing & Utilization. pp. 65–66, 271. ISBN 1566767776.
  6. ^ W. A. Newman Dorland (1922). The American Illustrated Medical Dictionary. p. 1030 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ The Medical Age. Vol. 11. E. G. Swift. 1893. p. 702., quoting the British Medical Journal
  8. ^ "xošgūšt" خوش‌گوشت. Reyhoon. 24 October 2018 [٢ آبان ١٣٩٧, 2 Ābān 1397 SH]. Archived from the original on 30 October 2018.
  9. ^ "Sweetbread recipes". BBC Food.
  10. ^ "Sweetbreads". British Food: A History. 10 April 2013.
  11. ^ "Words to the Wise". Take Our Word for It (176): 2. 14 November 2002. Retrieved 2012-02-06.