Tuesday, September 2, 2008

White Meat Society

One thing I never understood about Americans, speaking as a native born and raised in California, I never understood the American fascination with white meat.

[A simple scientific primer on white and dark meat

The color of the meat is determined largely by the presence of myoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen in muscle tissue. Through some interaction with iron, myoglobin forms the red pigments we associate with meat. Muscles that are designed for endurance, such as legs on chickens, have much myoglobin to supply oxygen because these endurance activities typically require oxygen. Breast meat on the other hand, has less myoglobin because the quick bursts of activity can happen without oxygen. ]

Growing up Chinese, we ate the cheapest parts of the chicken. Drumsticks and thighs were always cheaper than breasts and so that's what I ate. However, breast meat is also significantly leaner. As I mentioned in my post on veal, fat conveys flavor. As anyone who has had a well-marbled steak can tell you, we like our meat fatty. Let's accept for the moment that everyone likes flavor, then why would you voluntarily choose the meat that has less of it?

I've heard many reasons for the white meat preference. Among them, one that occurs most often is for health reasons. True, white meat chicken is a good source of protein without too much fat. But do you know why we describe so many meats as tasting "like chicken"? We usually say this when the meat has no flavor of its own, therefore tastes like chicken. Chicken does not need to be relagated to this level as generic protein, but it has to be treated right. Okay, if your health is so much of an issue that you need to give up the good stuff, then white meat is better than tofu.

Another thing I hear often is that breasts just tend to have more meat. I think this has much to do with the accessibility of the meat. It carves nicely into slices. Americans just seem to be lazy in what they eat. God forbid they need to eat deal with a bone, or worse yet, a whole fish unfileted. There's much flavor in the bones and cartilage so often neglected. Consider that stocks are made from bones.

In reality, I think the biggest reason for the preference of white meat is brainwash marketing. How often have you heard the term "all-white meat"? I've never understood the appeal of that. Perhaps it's to assuage you that they didn't stick some chicken feet into your chicken nugget. You accept that it's reconstituted meat anyway, why does it matter if it's all-white? But because advertising as position white meat to be so appealing, the public has fallen for it. I don't know whether this preference developed before the advertising or vice versa. I suppose it's the same problem of the white chicken and the egg.


H. C. said...

Tastewise, I prefer the fattier dark meat, it tastes "chickenier" for lack of a better term. Also less likely to dry out compared to white meats (imagine my disappointment when McD switched to all-white with their McNuggets, I use to seek out the dark nuggets and let my folks finish the rest as a kid... :P).

I've since learned to appreciate my wings and breasts too (that didn't sound right...), but leg & thigh is almost always my preference if given the option.

Also, I was told from Michael Pollan's "An Omnivore's Dilemma" that truly cage-free, natural chickens do have a "chickeny" flavor. Can't wait to see how that tastes like!

Yoko Sakao Ohama said...

I'm not a big fan of the "gamey" taste, so the blander (but also lighter) taste of white meat appeals to me.