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Oxtail, tripe and cow foot - nutritious or just delicious?

Published:Wednesday | February 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Oxtail and Beans

We sometimes want to retch when we learn of some of the meats enjoyed by other cultures. And as human nature goes, we consider our dishes normal and acceptable.

Foods such as tripe, that is, the intestines of animals, is a part of a broad group called the offals and includes the entrails and all internal organs, the brain, tongue, lungs and so on. The tail of the cow is also a very expensive delicacy in Jamaica. The cow's skin also has pride of place especially with men as they associate the high gelatine content with aphrodisiac potential.

Jamaicans are not exceptional in the use of offals in cooking as this is practised by all cultures. Some offals, such as the 'liver pate', even take pride of place in fine restaurants. There are anecdotal reports by Jamaicans in the US that Caribbean people have caused the cost of oxtail, tripe and other offals to skyrocket in New York because of the demand for these delicacies.

Cow's skin and ponmo

My most amazing discovery, however, is the popularity of cow's skin in many African countries. I believe, like many other dishes we now enjoy in Jamaica, such as our many popular stews, they have their genesis in the motherland. Cow's skin is popularly called 'ponmo' and is eaten on such a wide scale that it has become a threat to the leather industry in Nigeria. According to a BBC article some years ago, 'Nigeria eats its shoe leather'. Those in the industry are calling for a ban on the consumption of ponmo to save the industry.

Some people, it is believed, eat cow's skin because meat is expensive, and others, out of a traditional attachment. Unlike frying and roasting in many of the African countries, in Jamaica cow's skin is prepared in stews and soups and some people use it along with the cow's feet to make a jelly which they flavour and eat for medicinal purposes.

Nutritional value of offals

When tripe and oxtail are compared, their nutritional value is similar, but tripe is significantly higher in cholesterol. However, when these two are compared to the same weight in beef steak, the protein value of steak is higher.

Cow's skin is high in gelatine, a protien from collagen, which is high in non-essential amino acids (those which the body can make) and very low in essential amino acids (those which must be provided by the diet). Gelatine from cow's skin and bones is widely used in the commercial food industry and in other industries such as the pharmaceutical industry, to make, for example, the outer shells for capsules.

To make the delectable dishes from tripe, oxtail and especially cow's skin complete in protein quality, it is advised, as is practised in Jamaica, to cook them with some type of legumes such as broad beans.

Another concern in using tripe and cow's skin is safety. Ensuring that this food is free from parasites, properly cleaned and approved by public health inspections, should be a priority. There is also the fear of chemical contamination caused from substances used on the cow's skin for veterinary purposes.

Rosalee M. Brown is a registered dietitian/nutritionist who operates Integrated Nutrition and Health Services; email: