Veal Sweetbreads: What Are They And What Do They Taste Like?

Sweetbreads sound like some kind of yummy breakfast pastry, don't they? According to The Oxford Pocket Dictionary Current English (via, a sweetbread is defined as: "the thymus gland (or, rarely, the pancreas) of an animal, especially as used for food." Hmm, not so yummy-sounding. In fact, thymus glands and pancreases sound kind of gross.

As it turns out, sweetbreads may be offal, but they're far from awful. They are found in young animals, such as lambs, kids (the goat kind), and calves. Veal sweetbreads, the ones that come from milk-fed calves, are the type of sweetbreads most commonly used by restaurant chefs (via D'Artagnan).

What do veal sweetbreads taste like?

Sweetbreads can be cooked in numerous ways: sauteed, poached, roasted, grilled, braised, or fried. They can also be used to make sausages, terrines, pâtés, and stews, and have even been known to appear in cold appetizers and salads. Traditional French and Italian cookery have sweetbreads being topped with creamy sauces, but other sweetbread recipes may call for a lemon sauce to cut their richness. The Kitchn notes, "The outside crisps up easily, and they play nicely with both rich and more acidic sauces."

So what do veal sweetbreads taste like? Not at all bready, but they do taste kind of sweet. HuffPost claims, "The texture is smooth and tender, while the flavor is subtle and almost creamy." They also assert that "...sweetbreads are the least offaly tasting — meaning the least "musty" flavored — of all the organ meats." If you'd like a more specific (if possibly less accurate) description, one commenter on Food52 wrote, "It just came to me that they taste a little like white meat chicken tinged with oyster."

Sweetbreads have a cult following

Veal sweetbreads have had a sort of cult following amongst chefs for many years. They have not been so popular with home cooks, however, perhaps due to the lengthy preparation process — they need to be soaked for several hours and then blanched before cooking. Recently, however, sweetbreads have experienced a surge in popularity with the nose-to-tail eating crowd.

So go ahead, give veal sweetbreads a try, should you find them in a butcher shop or on a restaurant menu. They're definitely not cinnamon rolls, but veal sweetbreads are nonetheless as tasty as their name implies.