Gizzards are secondary stomachs used by birds to grind their food before food digestion. Gizzards are necessary for birds to digest their food, whether they eat nuts and seeds, whole prey, or even soft fruits and nectar.
Where Do Gizzards Come From?
Because birds don't have teeth, they must fill their stomach with small stones to achieve the same goal. The organ contains a very tough inner membrane, surrounded by a muscular pouch which provides the grinding action. Gizzards are part of the group of foods called offal, which also includes beef tripe, chitlins (pork intestines), and hearts. The gizzard is near, and part of, the stomach and digestive system for all birds.
Do All Birds Have Gizzards?
All birds have gizzards, though gizzards vary in size and structure from bird species to bird species. Some birds have gizzards that are thick and muscular. Other birds have thin-walled gizzards instead.
Birds with Thickly-Lined Gizzards
There are two primary types of gizzards. Some birds have thickly-lined gizzards, and others have thin-lined gizzards. Birds with thickly-lined gizzards include ducks, quail, turkeys, emus, doves, and others. These birds eat items with tough exteriors, like nuts and seeds. Because these birds sometimes pick up bits of gravel or sand, they need a tough gizzard that can endure the tough texture of these items. The gizzard collects these tough-textured items. The gizzard then pulverizes these items with digestible secretions from the bird. Owls also have tough gizzards, though an owl's gizzard functions differently than other birds with thickly-lined gizzards.
Because owls swallow their prey hole, they need a gizzard to collect the nonedible parts of the prey. In an owl, the gizzard doesn’t pulverize the nonedible items, but rather it collects these items for the bird to later cough up as pellets. The gizzard acts as a holding place for bones, fur, and feathers. After the owl has digested the edible parts of its prey, the gizzard’s muscles contract and the owl coughs up the non-digestible items, or the pellets. Other birds don’t need a thickly-lined gizzard, but instead have thin-walled gizzards.
Birds with Thin-Walled Gizzards
Some birds don’t eat hard-textured items like nuts, seeds, or prey with bones and feathers. Certain birds stick to a diet of soft fruits, nectar, or soft-bodied insects, instead. These birds only need a very small and thin-walled gizzard on their diet of soft fruits, nectar, or soft-bodied insects. Hummingbirds, sunbirds, and honeyeaters only eat nectar, so they fall into the category of birds with thin-walled gizzards. Orioles, bluebirds, mockingbirds, and American robins are other birds that have thin-walled gizzards because of their diets.
Do Humans Have Gizzards?
A human’s digestive system is much different than a bird’s digestive system. Because of this, humans do not have gizzards. Humans have teeth, saliva, stomach acids, and intestines to help digest food. As stated earlier, birds do not have teeth, so birds have gizzards that help them digest their food. A gizzard acts almost like a second stomach for birds. This is something that humans don’t have or need.
How to Cook Gizzards
While many people may recoil at the thought of eating bird stomachs, gizzards are actually a popular food item around the world. The turkey gizzard is also included in the collection of neckbones, heart, and liver known as giblets. These giblets are often used to make a stock or broth for dressings and soups. The gizzards alone can also be added to soup stocks for additional flavor. Gizzards may be poached, boiled, ground, or even deep fried.
How to Clean Chicken Gizzards
Before you can prepare gizzards for any meal, you need to properly clean them. If the gizzard is covered in a layer of white fat, you will need to remove this first. Then, you can cut the gizzard to expose the yellow sack inside of the meat. Then, cut or pull the outer membrane away from the yellow sack, separating the yellow sack from the meat. This method works best if you’re working with a gizzard that’s been stored in the refrigerator. If you cut the gizzard open when it’s at room temperature, the yellow sack can rip, allowing dirt and debri to spill. Dip the gizzard into a bowl of water to clean and remove any substances from the gizzard.
How to Fry Chicken Gizzards
Deep fried chicken gizzards are commonly served in the southeastern region of the United States. They are usually available in bulk at local grocery store meat departments, along with other organ and offal meats such as chicken livers and souse. The organs are washed to remove any impurities, then heavily dredged in seasoned flour. Because gizzards are frequently prepared and cooked in the South, cajun spices are often used. These include salt, paprika, cayenne, onion powder, celery salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, and some Louisiana-style hot sauce. They are deep-fried at a very high heat for several minutes until done. Chicken gizzards are often served with honey mustard or barbecue sauce. Gizzards are also served with gravy, hot sauce, or even ranch.
How to Poach Gizzards
Once the gizzards are clean, you can poach, or boil, gizzards for tender stewed gizzards. First, season the clean gizzards with salt and pepper. You can let the gizzards sit in the salt and pepper mixture overnight in the fridge or for about ten minutes before cooking. Then, add the seasoned gizzards to boiling water and bring the water to a simmer. Let the gizzards simmer for about half an hour.
At this point, you can add seasonings to the water to add flavor to the gizzards. You can add anything from onions to Louisiana-style hot sauce to Cajun seasonings. Once you add these items, the gizzards will need to cook for an hour. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the gizzards are cooked. You can then serve the boiled gizzards over rice or mashed potatoes.
What Do Gizzards Taste Like?
The taste and texture of fried gizzards can be difficult to describe. They are definitely chewy, since they are primarily a membrane more than a muscle. The muscle tissue itself has a subtle flavor similar to chicken liver. Chicken livers and gizzards are often prepared together, but not seasoned identically. Gizzards are usually seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic salt, while livers are generously coated with Cajun spices and seasoned salt.
Are Chicken Gizzards Healthy?
Gizzards are organs, so they are high in protein and iron. Gizzards also contain many different vitamins, including vitamin B12. Gizzards are low in fat, which is another health benefit. The method of preparation for gizzards determines the overall health of the dish, even though gizzards have many health benefits to start. Fried gizzards are a southern favorite, but not necessarily the healthiest method of preparation.
To fry gizzards, people usually coat gizzards in white flour and spices, then put them in oil to cook. People usually label fried foods as unhealthy, so consider air frying, boiling, or baking gizzards instead. When you choose to air fry, boil, or bake gizzards, you could cut down on the amount of fat and calories in your meal. Baked, poached, boiled, or ground gizzards are likely healthier options when compared to fried gizzards.
Where to Find Chicken Gizzards
Gizzards are a popular food item among poorer countries because they are usually in high supply and are very affordable. Grocery stores usually pack chicken or turkey gizzards in bulk containers and offer them for sale by the pound or kilogram. Most large grocery stores will carry gizzards as well. Gizzards, usually from a chicken, can be found in the meat section of your local grocery store. You can also try to find gizzards at a butcher shop as well.