White meat is meat which is pale in color before and after cooking. The most common kind of white or light meat is the lighter-colored meat of poultry, coming from the breast, as contrasted with dark meat from the legs. In traditional gastronomy, white meat also includes rabbit, the flesh of milk-fed young mammals (in particular veal and lamb), and usually pork, as contrasted with red meat. But in nutritional studies, white meat excludes all mammal flesh.
Given nutritional concerns, meat producers are eager to have their products considered white meat, and the United States National Pork Board has positioned their product as "Pork. The Other White Meat", alongside poultry and fish; this follows the traditional gastronomic classification. However, meats which are red when raw and turn white on cooking, like pork, are categorized by the United States Department of Agriculture as red meats if the myoglobin level is higher than 65%, and this is the definition used in nutritional studies. This categorization is controversial as some types of fish, such as tuna, are red when raw and turn white when cooked; similarly, certain types of poultry that are sometimes grouped as "white meat" are actually red when raw, such as duck and goose. In contrast, the USDA considers all meat from mammals to be "red meat."
Within poultry, there are two types of meats—white and dark. The different colors are based on the different locations and uses of the muscles. White meat can be found within the breast of a chicken or turkey. Dark muscles are fit to develop endurance, or long-term use, and contain more myoglobin than white muscles, allowing the muscle to use oxygen more efficiently for aerobic respiration. White meat contains large amounts of protein.
Dark meat contains 2.64 times more saturated fat than white meat, per gram of protein. One commentator wrote that dark meat contains more vitamins, while a New York Times columnist has stated the two meats are nearly identical in nutritional value, especially when compared with typical red meat. For ground-based birds like chicken and turkeys, dark meats occur in the legs, which are used to support the weight of the animals while they move. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one ounce of boneless, skinless turkey breast contains about one gram of fat, compared with roughly two grams of fat for an ounce of boneless, skinless thigh. The numbers go up when the skin is kept in: a chicken thigh, with skin intact, has 13 grams of total fat and 3.5 grams of saturated fat per 3-ounce serving; this is about 20 percent of the recommended maximum daily intake. Birds which use their chest muscles for sustained flight (such as geese and ducks) have dark meat throughout their bodies.
- Larousse Gastronomique, 1961, s.v. pork
- Evan Goldstein, Joyce Goldstein, Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food, ISBN 0520243773, 2006, p. 109: "White meats such as pork and veal are also excellent table companions for Gewürz..."
- Pierre Paillon, Secrets of Good French Cooking, ISBN 0471160628, 1996, p. 95: "White meats (veal and pork) and poultry should be cooked "medium"..."
- Elisabeth Rozin, The Primal Cheeseburger: A Generous Helping of Food History Served On a Bun, ISBN 0140178430 1994, p. 19: "Beef and lamb are clearly red meats, while veal and rabbit are white meats; the white meat category has been generalized to include the flesh of poultry and fish as well."
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