It is quite common to hear in restaurants or even at home the question of whether to go with red meat or white meat in a meal. Have you ever wondered why it is such an important decision, and what really is the difference between the two after all?
Animal meat in a dish is important because it is a primary source of protein for our human bodies. Protein is a basic building block of muscle, which provides energy and movement. Meat also nourishes us with other essential vitamins and minerals, along with fat. You might think that fat is outright unhealthy, but the truth is that certain types of good fat are needed by our bodies for complete nutrition.
If you are a “meat lover”—whether as a foodie who loves to eat meat, or a chef who loves to prepare food made from meat—you should know the different types of meat and their unique characteristics. Part of mastering the art of cooking meat, as well as eating it, is knowing the various options of meat as an important source of protein in our diet.
So what exactly is considered white meat? Traditionally, it refers to meat from poultry such as chicken or turkey. Some people may consider fish as white meat as well. On the other hand, red meat is usually beef, pork or lamb. Other animal sources like goat or kangaroo may also be called red meat.
Technically, what makes a certain type of animal meat “red” is usually the presence of myoglobin, or cells that are responsible for transporting oxygen to muscles through the bloodstream. As such, the common terms “red” or “white” are generally based on visual color. However, it is rather tricky to rely on such a method, as there really is no clear-cut categorization of red and white meat.
For instance, the leg and thigh parts of chicken are actually slightly darker compared to the breast part (traditionally considered the “real” or most ideal white meat) because of increased presence of myoglobin. This is because the leg muscles are in use more often. Therefore, chicken per se may not entirely be considered white meat.
What’s for sure is that chicken breast is leaner and lower in fat compared to chicken leg or thigh. Thus, most likely, when you encounter people in a dilemma of whether to eat red meat or white meat, the question really pertains to such a health concern involving fat.
By aiming to go with white meat, what people actually seek to do is choose a healthier protein source. However, this is again a tricky situation, because there are animal meats that are considered “red” by traditional or visual definition but may actually be just as healthy as white meat like chicken breast!
Consider, for example, meat coming from a bird such as an ostrich. It is usually categorized as “red” because of its appearance and its full, firm texture and taste—very much like beef, according to connoisseurs of this kind of cuisine. However, did you know that ostrich is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol compared to beef and even to classic white meat such as chicken breast?
Other surprisingly healthy “red” meats are those coming from goats and kangaroos. Goat meat is lower in cholesterol and fat compared to beef, pork, and even chicken, but provides the same amount of protein found in these mainstream meats. Similarly, kangaroo meat provides energy comparable to other lean red meats, while impressively containing only less than 2 percent of fat. What little fat kangaroo meat has, it’s more of the desirable unsaturated type that helps lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
One benefit of eating red meat in general is that it provides vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and vitamin B. The iron found in meat is called the “heme” type, which is more easily absorbed into the human body from the digestive system. Vegetarians and vegans seek to supplement these vitamins and minerals through plant sources, but it may not be as strong or potent.
On the other hand, many scientific and medical studies have shown that eating too much red meat has been correlated to certain types of malignancies such as colorectal cancer. It is believed that the way that red meat is cooked contributes to such risk of cancer. For instance, charring or burning meat on the grill may form harmful carcinogens or cancer-causing substances, which are ingested into the body.
The “meat” of the matter
The bottomline is, meat is an important part of a wholesome, complete diet being a primary source of protein. However, it is also prudent to choose healthy meats—those that are less in fat, especially the harmful saturated type. It’s just not as easy as a question between white meat or red meat. You always need to do some analysis and make a sensible choice based on your personal taste.
Eating red meat in a healthy manner can start with simple tips such as trimming any excess, visible fat from food such as steaks. These are the usual suspects for bad cholesterol in your bloodstream. You can also go with leaner cuts of red meat, such as those with names ending in “loin” (sirloin, tenderloin, etc.).
As mentioned, you may also want to try out animal meat such as goat or kangaroo. While technically considered “red” meat, they are healthier alternatives to the traditional pork or beef. They may take some getting used to in terms of taste, but more and more people are finding themselves enjoying these types of meat.
Healthy meat recipes
Enjoying meat in a healthy manner also has a lot to do with how the dish is prepared, by ensuring that only the freshest and choicest ingredients are used. Why don’t you try out some quick and easy yet delicious recipes using both white and red meat?
Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts with White Wine Sauce
2 whole boneless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon of minced shallots
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon each of minced fresh herbs: chives, parsley, and tarragon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat an oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and heat the oil in a skillet over high. Carefully slide the breast fillets into the oil and cook each side for about 5 minutes or so. Afterward, transfer the skillet into the oven for further cooking.
While the chicken is roasting, prepare the sauce by combining the white wine and stock in a cup and add the gelatin, setting it aside. Check the chicken by inserting a thermometer into the thickest part of the fillets, aiming for 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook at this temperature for just over 10 minutes. Then, take the skillet out of the oven and set aside the chicken.
Throw away the liquid or fat in the skillet except for around a tablespoon, which you then heat up and saute with shallots and garlic. Add the earlier wine mixture and stir, scraping in the residue in the skillet for flavor. Continue cooking on high heat until the sauce thickens by reduction, for about 5 minutes.
Then, stir in the butter and soy sauce and bring to a hard boil, for around 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and set side, and add the herbs into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the sliced chicken breasts.
Homemade Lean Beef Burgers
500 grams lean ground beef
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and ground pepper to taste
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Heat up the oil in a pan and saute the onions. Turn down the heat and allow the onions to caramelize, then add the garlic. Set aside and allow to cool for a while. Place the ground beef in a bowl and add the saute mixture. Add the mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the raw egg and mix it in well. It is ideal to use your hands in mashing the mixture and forming round patties the size of your fist. You can easily store the patties in the freezer and defrost before frying in a pan or grilling.