Foie gras: why force-feed the ducks?

It’s no secret that the (in my opinion) the wonderfully luscious treat known as foie gras is a result of the unglorious practice of force feed geese to engorge their livers. What I don’t know is why the engorged livers are necessary - do they taste much better because they’re so big? My only hunch is that the stomach can’t process any of the fat and so all the fat ends up in the liver, resulting in a better tasting liver. I have no idea if that’s accurate or not.

So what’s the Straight Dope? Do force-fed geese have far better tasting livers than regular geese?

Yeah, I know I said ducks in the title, but that’s only because the cooking show currently on is discussing ducks.

Yep, it’s the fat. Fat tastes good. There’s a biological reason for that: Fat is an excellent, compact source of energy. In nature, when food sources can be scarce, eating fat can keep an animal alive. So, evolution “gave” carnivorous creatures a taste for fat, to ensure that when a source of fat is found, the animal will go for that first. Same thing with sweet, in fact. Sweet means sugar, and sugars mean lots of energy.

In any case, geese won’t eat enough naturally to get a really fattened liver, so they have to be force-fed.

My understanding is this: ducks and geese and migratory birds store fat in preparation for, well, migration. The process is a lot more reversible than in humans - stop feeding them and the fat will come off without permanent damage to the liver. But the more they eat the fatter the liver, and to get one up to foie gras standards requires a lot more eating than they’d naturally do.

I’m sure Blake will be around soon with a much better explanation though…

Noodling geese raises their liver glycogen content.

I believe the point of force feeding geese is to enlarge the liver as much as 6 to 12 times the usual size, resulting in more foie gras. However, I also think the liver enlarges by the glycogen stored in it, so you may be right about that part, too.

Fois gras production:

Well, I’m no expert on liver function, but if you’ver ever tried eating chicken or lamb or calf liver (or probably pretty much any other kind of liver) they tend to be a bit ‘meatier’ and ‘drier’ than foie gras. The whole ‘meaty butter’ thing only comes from an exceptionally fatty liver (engorged to the point of pathology), and humans are generally the only beasties to do that to themselves voluntarily. Hence the neck tube for fowls.
The terms are pretty self-explanatory really:
foie gras - fat liver
foie de canard - duck liver
foie gras de canard - fatty duck liver
foie gras d’oie - fatty goose liver

You get a similar sort of thing with sashimi. The ‘fat tuna’ which I think is a belly cut is substantially different from the ‘lean tuna’ which I believe is a flank cut. It’s also much more expensive because of the taste benefits of all that lovely fat. mmmmmmmmmm :smiley:

I have heard that the force-feeding is considered cruel, and is illegal in the U.S.
Is this true?

At this stage, how does it taste, compared with an ordinary bird, and compared with genuine foie gras?

Wikipedia says it’s not illegal nationwide in the US yet, but will be soon:

It is not banned throughout the U.S. but some states have banned it.

Anthony Bourdain has this to say in his book A Cook’s Tour:

This description is of a local European (French, IIRC) farm, not a factory farm. YMMV.


Where and how in the U.S. can you get pate de foie gras d’oie? Or de canard? The “pate” I see for sale in the supermarket or liquor store is always made with pork liver.

Most ‘upscale’ or ‘gourmet’ food suppliers, I would guess, or online like here . Here in the UK you rarely see it in supermarkets (and even then only in the really top-end ones at special occasions such as christmas). You tend to have to go to really swanky delicatessens or specialist food-obsessive shops. It’s just not a mass-market item, because of the odd texture and the price. For which we can be profoundly grateful. If McDonalds were to sell it, people would be dropping like flies - the nutritional numbers are terrifying.
I was lucky enough to live just up the road from Comptoir Gascon for a few years, which was handy for when I wanted to get the full French Gastro experience. Mmmmmmm…

As equally important as the fattiness part, force feeding removes the livery taste and all you get is wonderful meaty butteryness.

As for whether it is cruel or not, you could probably debate that all day but I woul just like to point out that foie gras birds are probably some of the most well treated fowl in the world apart from the force feeding. Any stress or pain makes the liver work and produce byproucts which significantly lower the quality of the resulting foie and, hence, price. This is opposed to factory farmed chicken which live in much more deplorable circumstances.

I would try Dean & Deluca or Bristol Farms.

So, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln. . . .