No matter the occasion, lamb or beef are likely the first choices for the meat category. However, some of us are not great decision-makers, so we may need more information before making a choice. Perhaps, the best way to do this would be to figure out how their respective tastes and flavors compare.
Lamb is known to have a rich and gamey flavor that is lighter on the palette. Beef is more akin to a sweeter but fattier taste that is heavier on the palette. Of course, this is all dependent on various factors such as age, diet, and animal cuts.
A significant factor behind the taste of beef or lamb is the age of the meat. Everything from tenderness to texture depends heavily on age.
A lamb or calf has not spent enough years alive for its muscles to be subject to wear and tear. The meat will then be at its most firm and fresh state for cooking. The flavors will be lighter and less intense as there will not be enough time for the flavors to deepen.
Mutton or cow will be subject to much richer flavors as they mature. As they grow older, their muscles will lose firmness and tenderness. Cooking older selections of meat requires careful techniques because of this risk.
Any sheep that has not reached a year of age is considered a lamb. Lambs are subject to a lifespan of 5-6 months, which leaves little time for flavors to develop.
Thus, lambs are known for light and delicate taste profiles that are unique among livestock. Lambs are also at the age at which peak tenderness happens.
Sheep that have reached the 3-year mark are called mutton. Mutton has much darker meat than lambs, ranging from light to dark red.
Mutton has the strongest and deepest flavors that the sheep can achieve. Unfortunately, this longevity signifies the lack of tenderness that comes with age. The proper temperature is needed to get the best flavors out of mutton.
When it comes to American beef, farmers try to get the most flavor with the least risk. Calves are only allowed to live for 18-24 months on a diet that ensures maximum nutrient-richness.
The result is that the beef has moderately-strong flavors but lacks gaminess and mature components. Aside from less risky flavor profiles, this also minimizes the chances of diseases and other health issues.
A Texan Revolution
In 2006, a company named Heartbrand had an idea: to raise cows well beyond the age of the average calf. These cows would be allowed to live up until ten years of age. The idea is that the flavors of the cows would fully mature and open a new market for American beef.
The problem with older cows is that you need to be more careful with how you cook them. When they get past medium temperature, the tenderness and flavor are lost. However, you can cook mature beef that’s not too heavy but rich in flavor when cooked correctly.
The lamb’s main appeal is its signature gamey flavor. This flavor happens through the process of raising purely grass-fed lambs. The gaminess complements the flavors of the lamb’s branched-chain fatty acids, creating a unique and tasteful experience.
Cows are supposed to consume grass which provides them with the proper nutrients. These nutrients are present within the very fat that gives beef its flavor. The nutrient-rich fat enhances the best parts of the fat’s flavor and provides better tasting beef overall.
Grain Fed Lambs
When lambs are grain-fed, they lose that signature gamey flavor and overall appeal. Instead, the lamb’s flavor is far more influenced by its diet than nature. However, a heavy diet can allow rich flavors to cultivate within the lamb.
When cows eat grains, the effect is similar to that of a human eating junk food. It’s possible to live relatively well on this diet, but it’s still not very healthy.
The good news is that a sweeter taste is present in a cow fed through a grain-fed diet. The problem is that the fatty taste can be overwhelming compared to grass-fed beef.
Keep in mind that this article is nothing more than a comparison. There was no intention of claiming that either cut is superior. As you can see, there are too many differences to count between either kind of meat.
Do you want rich and flavorful or fresh and tender? The right choice boils down to one’s personal preferences. Just remember to choose the cut that best suits your tastes.