If you’re used to eating beef, chicken, and pork, lamb may feel like a huge departure. And, in fact, it is. Lamb is not really similar in taste to the more traditionally eaten meats in the United States.
Lamb tastes sort of earthy and gamey. It’s generally tender due to its young age and has a somewhat firm texture. The diet, age, environment, and cut of the lamb all factor into its flavor and texture.
Describing lamb as earthy and gamey generally has to do with its diet. When you say things taste gamey, we mean wild game or plants. Therefore, we are implying the lamb ate wild game, and we can taste it.
You know the old saying, you are what you eat.
What Do Lambs Eat
The diet of the lamb is one of the things responsible for the way it tastes.
Lambs raised on grass tend to have a more intense flavor. These lambs generally taste gamier and are somewhat leaner. Sometimes it is claimed that they also taste grassy.
In addition to being leaner, grass-fed labs also tend to have a firmer, more pleasing texture.
Grain-fed lambs are generally fed grain to help fatten them up. They tend to have a less gamey taste and are fattier, which makes for an overall more flavorful lamb.
When lambs are raised on grains, they are more tender than their grass-fed counterparts.
The Age of the Lamb
We tend to think that lamb means young sheep. However, lamb is only lamb up until a year old. Between the ages of one and two, the animal is called a hogget. After the age of three, it is now mutton.
The lamb is the youngest of the animal and as such is more tender and has a more delicate flavor.
A hogget has much darker meat than a lamb. It’s also richer and has more flavor.
However, it’s also somewhat less tender as it’s a little older now.
By the age of around three, the lamb is now an adult and its meat has changed to reflect that.
By contrast, mutton is fairly gamey, rich, and much less tender. The more worked the muscles get, the less tender the meat.
Parts of the Lamb
Different parts of lamb have different flavors and textures. Let’s go through some of the most commonly eaten parts of the lamb and discuss.
Generally, the neck is one of the tougher pieces of lamb. However, it is also one of the most flavorful. It’s extra fatty and full of cartilage and gelatine. It has a strong gamey flavor to it.
Due to its toughness, the neck is best cooked slowly until it becomes tender and falls from the bone.
The shoulder is another somewhat tough piece of meat. Here though, it does tend to have fat marbled through it which gives it extra flavor. Again, the gaminess of the lamb will be the most present taste.
You’ll also want to cook the shoulder for a while so it gets tender.
The breast is more tender than either the neck or shoulder. It’s flavorful and fatty.
You won’t need to cook it for a long time in order to make it tender enough to eat.
For such a small part, ribs deliver a lot of flavor. They are rich and fatty and quick to cook.
This is generally considered the best part of the lamb. It is the most tender, flavorful, and juiciest part of the animals.
To Sum Up
The overwhelming taste of lamb is gamey and earthy. Depending on the part of the lamb the texture can range from tender to tough.
In addition, younger animals tend to be more tender and mildly flavored. Older game are generally tougher, but also more flavorful.