The difference is… there is no difference. What is commercially sold as beef tongue or ox tongue come from the cow. But why does it say ox tongue in some recipes and beef tongue in others?
The difference between ox and beef tongue
First, let’s go into the distinction between an ox and a bull. It appears that in farming, there is a practice that animals not intended for breeding are castrated, especially when the animals are meant to do work like plowing or cart-pulling. Castration gets rid of aggressive and territorial behavior, and it makes farm animals easier to work with.
Ox is a term often used to refer to cattle (male, usually) that has been castrated. Male cattle that has not been castrated is a bull. Whether castrated or not, meat from cattle (the layman term is cow although some insist that “cow” only refers to female cattle) is called beef.
In today’s commercial meat production, we know that the tongue we find in the market or grocery, whether labeled as ox tongue or beef tongue, most likely came from an animal that was raised in a farm and intended for slaughter for human consumption. Ergo, the label “beef tongue” is probably more appropriate.
So why not just label them all as beef tongue? The usage of “ox” to label meat is likely a carry over from medieval days when all cattle were both farm workers and source of food. At the time, every male cattle was an ox.
If all that sound far too academic with no practical application for the everyday cook, just remember — when you buy tongue that comes from an animal whose meat is called beef, then, it can either be called ox tongue or beef tongue.
On page two, how to prepare ox / beef tongue for cooking.