While “gizzard” is sometimes used as a catchall term for guts or entrails, technically it’s a specialized offshoot of the stomach found in some birds, earthworms, gastropods, fish and reptiles. This organ, which has thickly muscled walls, is used to grind up food. For example, when birds eat, the food first goes into the storage area called the crop. From there it passes into the proventriculus (often called the “true stomach”), where glandular secretions work at digestion. Then the partially digested food goes into the gizzard, where it’s ground up, and from there sometimes goes back into the true stomach, or on to the small intestine.
One of the weirdest aspects of the gizzard is that some animals with one, most notably birds, sometimes swallow grit or stones, which then lodge in the gizzard to help in the grinding. These stones are then polished in the digestive action, and when they’re too smooth to function well, they’re either puked or crapped out. The presence of these types of stones adjacent to fossils has led paleontologists to suspect that some dinosaur species had these organs, too.
Hungry yet? You might be surprised—chicken gizzard is actually a fairly popular food across the world. It’s commonly eaten in Asia (
China, Japan, Pakistan, Iran), Europe ( Portugal, Hungary, Jewish cuisine), Africa ( Nigeria, Uganda), the Caribbean ( Haiti), and North America (chiefly in the Midwest U.S.).
It’s also a major component of giblet gravy, along with the heart and liver. So looking back, I realize that’s the first format in which I had gizzards, and it does explain something. I generally like poultry hearts and liver, but some of the other meat parts I found nasty—probably our gizzard friend.
I first had gizzards as a separate, recognizable dish in the Midwest, in the strangely-named
. It was an appetizer—fried gizzards, with a sauce. And they were totally gross. Gizzard meat was extremely tough and chewy, with no flavorful payoff. It was similar to eating gristle. Obviously, when something is battered and fried, and has a dipping sauce, this can improve (or mask) many mediocre or even subpar foods. However, there are limits, and clearly this was one of these examples. I almost wonder if leaving in some of the stones or grit might have actually improved the taste. Suffice it to say, I was unable to finish the entire appetizer, even with a little unenthusiastic help from my dinner companions. Atlantic, Iowa
Therefore, I strongly recommend staying away from gizzards. In addition, it goes by several other names, so also avoid gigerium, ventriculus, or gastric mill (I think this last one might be okay for a band name, but surely terrible as an entrée).