The Science Of Dark vs. White Meat


The family is gathered around the table, the
question rings out: white meat or dark? Your soul struggles with the decision, shall you
follow Yoda or Palpatine? The YING OR THE YANG?! WHAT TO DOOOO?! Meat eaters of the world are full of opinions
on rare versus well done, lamb or mutton, light versus dark. There are so many delicious
choices! So when you’re carving up a bird, does science even care which meat is which?
Why is meat that color in the first place? WHAT MEAT IS?!? I’ll use the turkey as an example, because
it’s far easier to see the meaty differences. Turkey breasts are made up of fast-twitch
muscle fibers. They’re made for short bursts of energy and tire quickly; they become the
white meat. The legs, on the other hand, are slow-twitch muscles; they’re used all the
time, and can work for long periods. When you’re eating meat, you’re eating these
two muscle types. The color of meat is determined by the amount of myoglobin the muscle fibers
have in them. You’ve probably heard of hemoglobin, it’s a molecule on red blood cells that helps
carry oxygen; myoglobin is the same molecule, it’s also known as “muscle hemoglobin.” To determine how MUCH myoglobin, you have
to consider what the muscles of the animal are doing all day. Slow-twitch muscles that
are used all the time need lots of oxygen and therefore have lots of myoglobin. Example:
cattle and pigs spend a lot of time standing and walking, so their meat is pink or red
— a rare steak has lots of myoglobin up in there. Chickens and turkeys spend their time
standing, and almost NO time flying around. Thus, their legs will be filled with fast-twitch
muscles, (YOU SAY ABOVE THAT THEIR LEGS ARE SLOW-TWITCH…) because they’re using them
a lot. Their breasts and wings, though, kinda weak fast-twitch muscles — less myoglobin
and therefore lighter in color. Now ducks — ducks fly and swim all the time!
So duck breasts and wings and legs are all slow-twitch, dark muscles. Speaking of swimming,
fish meat would be considered “darker” around the tail or fins — because those move the
most. Ocean fish like tuna swim ALL the time, so they’re much darker than say, a catfish
which slinks around slowly. Humans have a mix of the two depending if they’re say, sprinters
(fast-twitch) or distance runners (slow-twitch). I don’t know why that would be helpful. I
dunno… you know… you get really hungry. When you cook a fast-twitch muscle its myoglobin
changes color depending on the temperature. As it undergoes a chemical change, the myoglobin
can no longer hold oxygen, and the iron atoms at the center of the protein’s structure loses
an electron. That chemical change forms a hemichrome — for the brown of medium cooked
meat, and as heat rises more it becomes metmyoglobin… which is a brownish-grey. White meat doesn’t
have the myoglobin concentration to color the meat, so it looks more translucent, and
as it cooks, the muscle fibers, which are normally bound up in tight coils, uncoil — or
denature; the water leaks out and the meat becomes an opaque white. Because of the way the muscles are used, they’re
going to taste different when cooked. The white meat is thinner, less dense, and is
more tender — so it can be cooked more quickly. The denser, darker meats take longer — which
is why white meat tends to come out more dry at Thanksgiving. It’s difficult! But when
you fry a meat, the juice is held inside — so fried chicken breasts are still deeeelectible! When it comes to which is BETTER that’s up
to you. A study in the European Journal of Nutrition said taurine, found in dark poultry
meat, could lower coronary heart disease in some women. All in all, white meat is lower in saturated
fat but slathering gravy on the white to combat its dry texture… kind of scraps the benefits.
Dark meat is higher in saturated fats, but contains a lot more vitamins as well as iron,
zinc and other minerals! So which do you prefer, white meat or dark?

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