Posts Tagged ‘eggs’

Dark Meat or White?

February 8, 2010

Psst! Don’t tell our chickens about this post. We don’t want them to know that the people who bring them food and water are chicken cannibals. We are, but not of our own chickens. We find them much too humorous and endearing to actually kill and eat one. Besides, we want the eggs.

The Araucana Chicken

And speaking of the chickens’ eggs, a week ago the Araucanas began laying again which is a sure sign that spring is on its way again. The Araucanas quit laying entirely, usually in late October and don’t start again until the end of January or early February. That wouldn’t be true if we artificially controlled the length of the photoperiod in which they live, as do commercial egg operations. Even the chickens which continue to lay in the winter do so at a slower rate than the rest of the year, because of the extended hours of darkness.

But our purpose today is to discuss the age-old question among humans who eat chickens and turkeys, “White meat or dark meat?”

Your author grew up believing that he preferred dark meat, the result of lies told him by his parents. When I was a young boy they told me that the dark meat was the best and, because they loved me so much, they would let me eat the legs and thighs. It wasn’t until adulthood that I discovered that they told me about the dark meat so they could have the white meat to themselves. And the gizzards. I never got a gizzard. Not until I was a grown man did I get a gizzard.

The Araucana Egg

Back to red meat versus white meat. You didn’t come to hear about my parents or my childhood. Which wasn’t bad, you understand; just full of parental lies about white meat. Oh, and that time my mother promised to buy be a new package of M&Ms after she spilled a bag on the kitchen floor, but never did. And one of my parents threw away my Mickey Mantle rookie baseball trading card which, if I still had, could sell for enough money to retire on.

I’ve forgiven them for all that though, so let’s get back to white meat and dark meat. I do wonder though,from time to time, what happened to my first model train . . . And my favorite childhood pillow. . . .

As you know, when someone serves you turkey or chicken at a dinner party, they will politely ask you whether you prefer dark meat or white meat. Or at least they will if they are not my parents who will lie to you about the whole thing but, like I said, I’ve forgiven them for that and so won’t say anything more about it. Whether you choose white meat or dark meat is largely a matter of personal taste, at least assuming you were raised by honest people, who didn’t warp your childish perceptions by deliberately misleading you and depriving you of the joy of white meat smothered in gravy on your plate.

Most birds don’t have any white meat so it wouldn’t have been an issue if my parents served duck, for instance. Ducks don’t have white meat. But I never got duck growing up. No. All I got was the thighs and legs of chickens and turkeys. But let that go.

Geese too. They don’t have any white meat either, but do you think my parents ever served geese? Not when I was around, they didn’t. They didn’t like dark meat.

Wild Turkey in Golden Gate Park - NPS Photo

One time, I remember, my father went turkey hunting with some friends and he came back with a wild turkey. That turkey had fed on Prickly Pear cactus and it had lovely streaks of light purple running through the breast meat. Or at least that is how that turkey remains in memory. I wonder how it tasted. All I got was a leg. Not that it matters now. I don’t hold a grudge.

So, besides taste, what is the difference between white meat and dark meat? All of it is muscle tissue, after all. The answer lies in what the bird uses the muscles for and how often it uses them.

By the way, I only learned this as an adult, after getting interested in birds. My parents certainly didn’t tell me. And I am going to tell you all about it, but it is going to take longer than I have room in this post to tell you. Somebody, probably one of my parents, told me that blog posts shouldn’t be longer than about 800 words or people won’t finish reading them and I just exceeded that limit for today, so you’ll have to wait for the next post to find out why some meat is white, some dark.

I know you are disappointed, but it’s not my fault. Blame my parents.


For more, see Evans and Heiser “What’s Inside:Anatomy and Physiology,” Chapter 4 of The Home Study Course of Bird Biology, 2nd ed., Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

For more on my childhood, see my autobiography, Bleak House, which I self-published under a pseudonym.

Pardon out fonts today. We’re not sure what happened, but we don’t know how to fix it. Probably my parents’ fault.

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