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Why it is important to know the differences between mutton, lamb and goat meat; and why goat meat is the healthier option.
It is important to note the differences between these three red meats, to understand their flavours, for better preparation, and their varying nutritional values.
Goat meat is the most popular meat in the world and it is absolutely delicious.
It is considered a red meat, with a fine-grained flesh and ranges in color from light pink to bright red.
Varieties of goat meat
Goats bred for their meat are usually castrated (known as wethers) when they are around six to nine months. Most are slaughtered when they are under a year for a tender, juicy meat with a delicate flavour.
The meat from an un-castrated goat tends to be tougher, with a rather strong ‘goaty’ smell and flavour.
Goat meat is considered to be a healthy meat
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 more iron than beef (see comparison chart below).
This means goat meat is the leaner and healthier option, compared to equal servings of chicken, lamb, beef or pork.
While some antibiotics might be present in goat meat, hormones are not approved for growth promotion in goats.
How to cook goat meat
It is a surprisingly lean meat with little fat or marbling, so high temperatures will make it tough. It is therefore better suited to long, covered, slow cooking over low temperatures to preserve the moisture and break down the collagen in the meat. The tender cuts are also suitable for marinating or tenderizing, before grilling or barbecuing.
Read this article on How to Tenderize Meat
Goat meat around the world
Goat meat is something of a delicacy in France, Italy and Spain, and is also very popular in South America where it is usually slow roasted.
In Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean it is often prepared in the form of stews or curries.
In India so-called ‘mutton’ dishes are usually made with goat meat.
In fact, many South Asian countries, prefer using goat meat over lamb as it is leaner and tastes less gamey.
In the UK, goat meat is not commonly sold in supermarkets, but can be found in specialist butcher shops or some farmers markets.
Most sheep meat sold in the UK and US is lamb because mutton is not as popular.
Varieties of lamb meat
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.
Spring lambs, are milk-fed lambs. They are born in the winter and sold in Spring (around Easter). Baby lamb meat will be pale pink, while regular lamb is a darker pinkish-red. The flavour and texture is the mildest and most tender and therefore fetches higher prices than that of older lamb or mutton.
How to cook lamb
There is some fat on lamb (more than goat meat). The fat is more gamey than the meat, so if you are not keen on the flavour, trim off as much fat as you can.
Lamb is best grilled, barbecued, braised or roasted. Some cuts of lamb have less marbling than others. One of the fattiest cuts is the shoulder which makes it ideal for slow-roasting.
Lamb chops are the most expensive cut with some fat. These are best suited to barbecuing or grilling on a high heat till they are brown on the outside and slightly pink inside.
The leg is probably the leanest cut and therefore the least ‘gamey’, great for roasting, taking care not to let it become too dry.
The meat of an adult sheep is mutton. The adult sheep is typically slaughtered around two to three years old.
Varieties of mutton
Mutton 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 intensify as the animal becomes older. The flavour tends to appeal more to those who prefer stronger tasting meats such as deer, wild boar and rabbit.
Mutton is now considered a slightly old fashioned meat as more lamb is consumed.
How to cook mutton
As Mutton is a tougher and fattier meat, it is best slow-cooked, or stewed, to soften and break down the connective tissue.
As it is a stronger tasting meat, it works well in sausages or other dishes where strong spices/flavours are used.
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
Recipes to try:
Which is your favourite meat and why?
This post was UPDATED March 25th, 2019 with a new photo and additional information.