White meat refers to any lighter-coloured meat, often contrasted with red meat. White meat or light meat also refers to the lighter-coloured meat of poultry in contrast to “dark meat”.
That’s all I knew and thought there was to know. That conviction carried me for half a century on this planet without committing one faux pas (to my knowledge)
The exact definition of white meat varies by time, place, and culture; domestic chicken and rabbit are generally considered “white”, while the meat of large adult mammals, such as beef, mutton, and horse is generally considered “red.”
OK, I didn’t know the bits about bunnies–white or ponies–red, but there’s more…
The meat of young mammals such as veal and milk-fed lamb are considered “white”; while the meat of duck and goose is considered “red,” though the demarcation line may be changing. Game is sometimes put in a separate category of meat altogether (French viandes noires, “black meats”).
Oh come on, black meat?
A newer definition in the USA emphasises not the appearance and strength of taste, but the fat content, making “white meat” synonymous with “lean meat”. Traditionally “white” meats such as lamb and veal are reclassified as “red”. Even fish and seafood, including fatty and dark-fleshed fishes such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, are called “white meat.”
This is clearly Tiger country. Where did I put my pith helmet and elephant gun?
Given the nutritional concerns about red meat, meat producers are eager to have their products considered as “white”, and the US National Pork Board has positioned their product as “Pork. The Other White Meat“, alongside poultry.
Meats that are red when raw and turn white on cooking, such as pork, are categorised by the US Department of Agriculture as red meats. Just so you’re clear on the cooking part, salmon, which is salmon coloured (I’m nothing if not clever) when raw, turns white on cooking.
Does that make salmon a red white meat or a white red meat?
The Israelis (why am I not surprised?) further complicate matters, because pork is so non-kosher that even saying the word pig will turn you into stone, so they get around that problem by calling pork white meat.
Where’s a suicide bomber when you need one? Let’s close the circle where we started…with chicken
Within poultry, there are two types of meats—white and dark. The different colours are based on the different locations and uses of the muscles. Dark meats occur in the legs, which are used to support the weight of the animals while they move. These muscles are designed to develop endurance for long-term use and contain a large amount of myoglobin, allowing the muscle to use oxygen more efficiently for aerobic respiration. In contrast the white meat, generally found in the breast of the birds, are used for quick bursts of power which requires little of the meat-darkening myoglobin. Note that this holds for ground-based birds like chickens and turkeys – birds which use their chest muscles for sustained flight (such as geese and ducks) have dark meat throughout their bodies which, you’ll recall, we called red meat.