Mutton is a type of meat often mistaken for lamb. While both mutton and lamb are technically the same as they both come from the same species of animals, it doesn’t mean the terms can be used interchangeably.
Unfortunately, not many people know the difference between mutton and lamb, and those who do are either chefs, butchers, or real foodies.
So, if you go to a butcher store to find a chunk or slice of meat, then it’s important to know the difference between the names so you know what you’re going to get.
Here is everything you need to know about mutton!
So, What Is Mutton?
Mutton is a cut of meat from a mature sheep, which is a sheep who has reached maturity at around 2 to 3 years and older.
Mature sheep get butchered in the same way as cows and pigs, so there is a variety of mutton cuts you can buy from a butcher store, including mutton chops, belly, steaks, and even bacon.
Interestingly, in the Caribbean and South Asia, “mutton” is known as “goat meat”, though mutton is typically known as a type of lamb everywhere else in the world.
Mutton first became popular in the United States in the 20th century, but then lost popularity in favor of milder meats. It has since resurged in popularity and is found in restaurants and butcher stores.
The Difference Between Mutton And Lamb
As mutton and lamb both come from the same animal (sheep), it’s easy to accidentally mix up the terms and assume they’re the same kind of meat. However, there are some clear differences between the two.
Lamb is a type of meat butchered from a young sheep, around the age of a year old. Despite its name, lamb doesn’t actually come from lambs, as the size of the baby animal is far too small to butcher.
Instead, the meat is best butchered from a young sheep. However, you can also buy spring lamb, which refers to meat from lambs under the age of 3 months.
The reason why lamb is butchered from a sheep at this age is because the young animal is yet to develop fat and dense muscles.
This results in a mild, tender, and moist cut of meat, which is most commonly eaten in a roast dinner for a celebration, Thanksgiving, or Christmas.
There are multiple ways to prepare lamb, including roasting, braising, and grilling. Lamb is a popular meat in the United States, Europe, and particularly the Middle East.
The meat can be left alone in various cuts (including lamb shanks, leg of lamb, lamb chops, rack of lamb, lamb shoulder, and ground lamb), or included in a dish such as curry.
Mutton, on the other hand, is butchered from a sheep who is at least 2-3 years old. This is because the older the animal gets, the more deep tissue and fats their body develops. As a result of this, mutton has a far richer flavor than lamb, as well as a thicker, tougher texture.
Because of its thicker texture, mutton isn’t as popular as lamb in the United States. Mutton is a staple meat in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, however, featuring in curries, biryani, kebabs, stews, and slow-roasting recipes.
However, keep in mind that some cultures call goat meat “mutton”, so you might not get the taste or texture that you were expecting.
Likewise, other countries have varying names for lamb and mutton. In New Zealand and Australia, mutton is typically called “sheep meat”, while lamb is known as “yearling” or “hogget” as a way to differentiate the two very different types of meat.
What Does Mutton Taste Like?
Mutton has a distinctively strong flavor compared to lamb as a result of the higher content of fat and deep tissue. When consumed without seasoning, mutton has a distinctive earthy flavor that is reminiscent of hay and grass.
It’s an acquired taste, which is why it’s commonly accompanied by various seasonings, spices, and sauces to cover up the earthy tones.
Interestingly, the flavor of mutton will depend on what food the animal has eaten its entire life. For example, when the animal is butchered at a slightly older age and has lived off a diet of hay and summer grass, the meat will have a stronger flavor.
When the animal is butchered at a younger age or fed off spring grass, the flavor is typically milder and smoother.
How To Cook Mutton
Because of the connective tissue and fat found in mutton, mutton is best cooked low and slow. When cooking mutton at a low temperature for a long period of time, this allows the tissue, collagen, and fibers to break down, resulting in a flavorful and more tender meat.
Cooking mutton at a higher temperature for a shorter time results in a tough texture.
Mutton is most commonly cooked in a slow-cooker, meat smoker, or slow-roaster to ensure the connective tissue has enough time to break down. This differs from lamb, which is a naturally tender meat and can be roasted, braised, or grilled.
Another way to make mutton more tender is to tenderize it before cooking. Regardless of how you intend to have your mutton – whether it’s mutton chops or ribs – it needs to be marinated in a vinegar or citrus-heavy base to help break down the connective tissue.
While the meat will still be tougher than lamb, this will help it become tender and moist.
Is Mutton Healthy?
Mutton is a surprisingly healthy red meat that is high in protein and filled with essential vitamins and minerals. The health benefits include:
- Vitamin B-12 – Produces healthy red blood cells
- Vitamin B-3 – Metabolizes carbs, proteins, and fats
- Unsaturated fats – Improves cholesterol and a healthy heart
- Iron – Transports oxygen around the body with red blood cells
- Zinc – Boosts the natural immune system
So, there you have it! While lamb is butchered from a juvenile sheep under the age of 1, mutton is from an older sheep around the ages of 2-3, resulting in a richer flavor and thicker texture.