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Why cows’ gallstones are worth their weight in gold

People love bovine gallstones. Images: Warner Bros., Beef Central.

As Harry Potter fans would remember, bezoars – or gallstones – are incredibly useful. In fact, they saved Ron Weasley’s life.

And they’re just as valuable in the real world, fetching as much as €35,000 (AU$55,880) a kilogram.

Bovine gallstones have sold for $20,000 a kilogram in Australia but, as the Irish Independent reported last week, more recent sales in China have reached $55,880.

This is nuts. Why?

Gallstones are hard crystalline masses formed in the gallbladder or in bile ducts from digestive fluids like bile pigments, calcium and cholesterol.

They’re generally retrieved at an abattoir during the bile extraction phase.

So, they’re not used as jewellery.

Rather, some proponents of alternate Chinese medicine believe gallstones can remove headaches, alleviate low spirits and address sexual dysfunction. Others believe they can be used to treat hepatitis and heart and liver illnesses.

But they’re also extremely rare: 75 per cent water, the gall stone generally needs to be in pristine condition to hold value.

And while they look like heavy pebbles, they generally weigh only in the grams.

In fact, according to Beef Central, the entire Australian cattle industry produces only 200 kilograms of bovine gallstones a year.

“They are very scarce. You could kill 2,000 animals and find nothing for a whole month,” said Paul Daly from the Irish Casing Company.

“It is not as simple as people think. People need to know how to buy, and the quality. There is a lot of counterfeit stuff as well. So if you don’t know the trade you can lose your money.”

In 2015 a man was charged with stealing 414 kilograms of gallstones from a Toowoomba abattoir over a period of at least six months.

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