Rocky Mountain Oysters Probably Aren't What You Think They Are

The Buckhorn Exchange is one of the most storied restaurants in the American West. Established in 1893, the eatery claims the spot as Denver's "most historic" restaurant, was founded by a riding partner of Buffalo Bill, and offers fare like rattlesnake, buffalo, and elk.

"No dinner is complete without the house specialty, Rocky Mountain Oysters," the steakhouse's website says. You'll find this delicacy, served with "horseradish dippin' sauce" at the top of the appetizer menu for $13 for a half order and $19 for a full order.

While the Rocky Mountain region is indeed home to a variety of freshwater shellfish, per the Colorado Division of Wildlife, that's not what Rocky Mountain oysters are. They're testicles — often those of bulls, but also of bison, sheep, and pigs, reports HuffPost. At the Buckhorn, they're bull.

Atlas Obscura notes that in the American West and Western Canada, eating ranch animal testicles came as a byproduct of the castration that was going on anyway to control the population and reduce aggressive behavior. Castrating young bulls also helps stimulate skeletal muscle growth, Thrillist says.

Would you rather eat or drink your 'oysters'?

Rocky Mountain oysters come with many names, perhaps because people don't want to say "I'll have the bull testicles, please." Among the more honest ones listed by Thrillist are "dusted nuts" or simply "bollocks," while "prairie oysters" and "cowboy caviar" are decidedly more euphemistic.

Whatever you call them, they're most often served sliced, breaded and fried as an appetizer with dipping sauce, DelightedCooking says, though Atlas Obscura notes that smaller balls can be fried whole. You can also have these oysters sauteed, braised, broiled, and poached, per Thrillist.

Forager Chef has a recipe for smoked Rocky Mountain oysters that lists both a smoker and "courage" as required equipment. Before running out of stock, Newport Jerky Company was selling beef testicle jerky packets for $14.99, saying: "Our customers go nuts for these!"

Just don't say "prairie oyster" at the bar, unless you want a hangover-cure cocktail by the same name which contains raw egg yolk, cautions Atlas Obscura. As long as we're on the topic of drinks, we should note that offal has been used to make beer, at least at one brewery, Wynkoop Brewing Co in Denver, of course. Of the three options, the actual fried bull balls may sound the most appealing, although Westword says the beer "does not taste like cow parts" despite containing six testicles per barrel.

So what do bovine balls taste like?

Whether in liquid or solid form, Colorado is a great place to try Rocky Mountain oysters. Some might even find it to be a seminal moment when visiting the state.

Wherever you try them, you may want to prepare yourself, as DelightedCooking notes that "this dish is said to be an acquired taste." According to Atlas Obscura, connoisseurs say their texture is similar to calamari while their slightly gamey flavor is reminiscent of chicken and venison.

"There's no good way to say this: They were surprisingly juicy," a Harvest Public Media reporter said after noshing on a sampler of beef, bison, and lamb oysters at Bruce's Bar and Restaurant in Severance, CO. "The beef were in a league all their own, chewy and meaty and full of a unique flavor somewhere between liver and gizzard."

If you do become a fan, fried Rocky Mountain oysters might make a tasty addition to your next sack lunch.