Why it is important to know the differences between mutton, lamb and goat meat; and why goat meat is the healthier option.
While they are all red meat, it is important to note why they are different: to understand their flavours, for better preparation, and their varying nutritional values.
Goat meat is the most popular meat in the world and is absolutely delicious, but here in the UK, it is not commonly found. Being something of a delicacy in France, Italy and Spain, it is very popular in South America where it is usually slow roasted. In Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean it is prepared in the form of stews or curries. (What is called ‘mutton’ in South Asia is in fact goat meat, so a ‘mutton curry’ is always made with goat meat.)
Its appearance ranges from light pink to bright red.
It is seen as a healthy meat (see chart below). Goat meat is actually lower in calories, saturated fats, and cholesterol than beef, pork, lamb and chicken. It also contains a higher amount of protein and even more iron than beef.
While the meat of mature goats is tough with a strong flavour, that of a milk-fed kid goat is milder. It is a surprisingly lean meat with little fat, so high temperatures will make it tough. It is therefore better suited to long, slow cooking over low temperatures to preserve the moisture and break down the collagen in the meat. Kid ribs do have a bit of fat so they are best suited for quick cooking.
Most sheep meat sold in the UK and US comes from lamb simply because mutton is not as popular.
A sheep in its first year is a lamb. The meat varies in colour from a tender pink to a pale red. In general, the darker the colour, the older the animal. Baby lamb meat will be pale pink, while regular lamb is pinkish-red.
There is little fat on lamb (though slightly more than goat meat), and it has a comparatively mild flavour.
Lamb under 3 months of age is Spring lamb which is smaller and more tender. The flavour and texture of milk-fed lamb (4-6 weeks old) when grilled is generally thought to be finer than that of older lamb/mutton, and therefore fetches higher prices.
Lamb is best grilled, barbecued, braised or roasted.
The meat of an adult sheep (over 1 year old) is mutton. The meat has a deep red colour and is fattier than lamb. It is also tougher and the flavour is stronger and more gamey. This is because it contains a higher concentration of fatty acids which intensifies as the animal becomes older. The flavour tends to appeal more to those who prefer the stronger taste of meat such as deer, wild boar and rabbit.
As Mutton is a tougher and fattier meat, it is best slow-cooked, or stewed, to soften it and break down the connective tissue.
The Nutritional values below are for 100 g of roasted meats:
Taken from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2013. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26. Nutrient Data Laboratory