What are Sweetbreads and Why Should You Try Them? - Drew's Catering

Ahhhh, sweetbreads.

A long-time foodie favorite, many, many people still have not tried them, or even know what they are. To be honest I can’t say I blame them with a name like sweetbreads. I mean, they are neither sweet, nor are they anything resembling bread.

So what are they? Well, as eloquently as I can put it, sweetbreads are the thymus glands of young veal, pork and lamb. That’s right, today we’ll be learning about eating thymus glands!

“You sit there and eat ALL your thymus glands Billy, or no dessert!”

Now we can get these thymus glands from two places, the first is just below the throat of the animal, and the other is near the heart, which are generally more prized and more expensive as many consider them to have a better flavour. Here’s what they look like:

Sweetbreads shot

I have a strange feeling I may have grossed some of you out by now. But let me just say this:

Sweetbreads are delicious.

There is a reason many of the best chefs in the world have had them on their menus for years. If prepared right, you’ll order them everytime you see them on a menu. Alright, alright, well if they’re so good, why doesn’t everyone have them on their menus?

A couple reason:

1. First and foremost, they are extremely perishable, usually having to be prepared and eaten within 24 hours of purchasing. This makes them not very cost-effective for most restaurants.

2. Well, let’s not sugar coat it, thymus glands are a tough sell. I’m not sure why they came to be called sweetbreads, but there’s a good chance it was simply to call them something else other than what they actually were.

But let’s move on now from all the nay-saying and approach this with an open mind. What do they taste like?

They have a very delicate liver flavor with a slightly creamy texture. My favorite way to have them prepared is blanched, lightly battered and fried. I had one dining companion say they tasted like “the best chicken mcnugget ever, just a bit creamier”. Hey, whatever works.

Feeling adventurous enough to try them? Head out to Le Crocodile, the famous mainstay of fine French dining here in Vancouver, as they always have them in some form on their menu.