Tripe is the mysterious white, spongy stuff on grocery stores meat counters. It is animal stomach from a cow, a pig or a sheep.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) essentially only recognizes two types of tripe in its “Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications” (1993): honeycomb and other.
- Item No. 726 – Beef Tripe, Scalded, Bleached (Denuded) – The paunch with or without the “honeycomb” reticulum shall be scalded and washed absolutely free of any foreign material and bleached with an FSIS approved bleaching solution. The color may range from white to a light pale yellow. The dark internal lining shall be removed.
- Item No. 727 – Beef Tripe, Honeycomb, Bleached – The “honeycomb” reticulum shall be removed from the paunch by cutting along the seam connecting the two sections of the stomach. The dark internal lining shall be removed and the tripe shall be scalded and bleached to a creamy white color.
It is far more popular outside the English speaking world than it is within it, and so, outside the English-speaking world, in other languages, far more distinctions are made. The English-speaking world generally doesn’t distinguish different tripes, aside from recognizing that the fourth stomach of the cow is important because rennet from cheese is extracted from it.
Special food-grade oxygen-based bleaches, approved by government meat inspection processes, are use to make tripe white, and to deodorize it. After bleaching, the meat is rinsed thoroughly with water.
In England, tripe sold is blander than it is in France because it has been blanched and bleached first before sale. “Green Tripe” in English-speaking markets means tripe that has not been blanched and bleached. Green Tripe smells strongly of shit, even when cooked and placed alluringly on your plate. The scent wafts up in your face.
In the English-speaking world, Beef Tripe can come from the first three of the animal’s four stomachs. (In the southern US, tripe is just as likely to be from a hog.)
Europeans distinguish between four different types of beef tripe, and use all four.
- Plain (aka smooth, blanket, flat) Tripe. Called “gras double” in French. Comes from the first stomach (called the “rumen” in English, “panse” in French.) This is considered the least desirable tripe amongst tripe fans. Thickness will vary. May have a layer of fat attached that needs to be removed;
- Honeycomb Tripe (called “réseau” or “Le bonnet” in French) comes from the lower part of the second stomach (called the “reticulum” in English.) Honeycomb is the most tender and the meatiest, and holds it shape during cooking. The honeycomb texture helps sauces to adhere to it. Pocket Tripe also comes from the second stomach;
- Book (aka bible, leaf, “Le feuillet” in French) Tripe comes from the third stomach (called the “omasum” in English.) The desirability is considered midway between the smooth and honeycomb tripe;
- Reed Tripe. Called “caillette” or “franche-mule” in French, “Cuajo” in Spanish, “lampredotto ” or “abomaso” in Italian. Also “fisarmonica” in Florentine. Comes from the fourth stomach, called the “abomasum” in English. This is the stomach that rennet is obtained from in calves (thus, the French word for curd, “caille.”) Each whole piece of lampredotto will weigh between 1 ½ to 2 ¼ pounds (700g to 1 kg.) In Florence, Italy, they even distinguish 2 separate parts of the fourth stomach:
- the “spannocchia“, which is denser, smoother, fattier, stronger tasting;
- the “gala“, milder taste, darker colour, rippled.
Tripe is sold as fast food from mobile food stalls called “tripperie” in Florence, Italy, at the Mercato Centrale. They sell you it in little plastic dishes with little plastic forks, or on a bread roll. In Italy, it was the custom to have tripe on Saturday — “Giovedì gnocchi e Sabato trippa” (“Thursday gnocchi and Saturday Tripe.”)
Even though tripe is eaten in Europe, by no means was it considered refined food or a delicacy — it was mostly country people who ate it.
When cooked, tripe looks somewhat spongy and slimy. Honeycomb turns gelatinous as it cooks.
Tripe is a tough meat, so it needs to be cooked low and slow to tenderize it. (Some wags say boil it for ever, then give it to the dogs.)
If you are cooking with green tripe, it needs to be soaked in water for several hours first, and then cooked for a very long time.
In France, they braise tripe in wine. In England, they simmer it in milk.
Once cooked, you then use tripe in soups, or fry it up.
Tripe was cheap and plentiful in the UK during the rationing of the Second World War, because no one wanted it at any price.
Bleached tripe was available to North American consumers at least by 1900: “TRIPE SALAD. Buy a pound of prepared tripe (the butcher now sells it ready for use)…” — For Table and House Column. Frederick, Maryland: The News. 24 March 1900. Page 5.
Literature & Lore
Julia Child featured tripe on at least one of her episodes.
Some wags have quipped that tripe names such as Rumen, Reticulum and Omasum sound like the start of a spell to summon the Devil.
The Italian word for the fourth stomach, “lampredotto”, is derived from the Italian word for lamprey eels, “lampreda”, for the resemblance that the tripe was thought to have to cooked lamprey eel. Other words for the fourth stomach in Italian are “frasame”, “riccia”, “frangiata”, “quaglio”, “riccioletta” and “spannochia.”
In Rome, the vendors were called “tripparoli.” They went from house to house, selling it from trays. The word for the tray, “schifo”, has now become a slang word throughout Italy for “disgusting”, as in “che schifo” — “how disgusting!” The tripparoli had their own shops separate from butchers.
Pork tripe is called “trippetta” in Italian; beef tripe “trippa”. Pork tripe was considered to be cat food.
Wallop, Harry. Tripe goes mainstream thanks to offal revival. London: Daily Telegraph. 17 April 2010.