Food & Nutrition For You

White meat vs. dark meat: What’s the difference

If anyone is seen wolfing down a delicious mouthful of laal maas the first thought that could cross one’s mind “is it healthy?’. Mutton, dark meat, is notoriously seen as a protein that gives rise to various coronary issues. Chicken, on the other hand, is known as a healthier protein alternative. The meat we consume is made up of muscle and muscle fibres.

Making it easier

Animals have two main types of muscle fibres – red and white. The colour and taste of dark meat are due to a protein called myoglobin which pushes more oxygen and blood flow to the muscle to perform a function. As the birds and chickens use their legs to stand most of the time these two cuts of meat contain a high amount of myoglobin. Myoglobin gives meat its colour.

Red meat has more capillaries that amp the oxygen and blood flow to the muscle, whereas white muscle fibres contain fewer capillaries and therefore look light-coloured.

White meat

This cut of protein tends to be lean and has a paler, almost white, with a mild hue of pink colour. When cooked without seasoning it looks almost colourless. White cuts like the tenderloin, breast tenders, and wings. Turkey meat is also considered white meat.

Dark meat

This cut tends to be red as it has a good amount of myoglobin hence the colour. When cooked the red colour tends to go brown. Dark cuts are the thigh and drumstick (the legs of the bird), pork, beef, and lamb. Since leg meat is made up of multiple muscles and fibres, there is generally more fat content than white meat.

More on Myoglobin

Myoglobin, the iron-containing protein in the muscle stores oxygen in the muscle for quick use. This helps different muscles that come into play for various functions. Muscles have different uses hence a different kind of metabolism.

Dark cuts, like thighs or drumsticks, are used when an animal is walking or standing up for a long period. Whereas, white cuts like the breast (tenderloin), breast tenders, and wings are required for a short time when energy is needed to flap wings, for example.

Dark and white meat apply to chicken as well as to Turkey. Duck meat is the only meat that is dark as the ducks use their muscle for a long time to fly.

Let us go meat-to-meat and see their potential health benefits.

How dark can we get?

Though darker meat is known to be high in fat and calories it is surprisingly a fairly lean protein source if trimmed. They tend to be rich in healthy fats and other nutrients such as iron, zinc, and riboflavin.

Dark meat has more iron just because of the type of muscle it is, and yes, (hold your heart), the number of calories and fat content.


Both white and dark meat chicken is an excellent sources of nutrient-filled protein that supports good health.

All chicken cuts are a good source of protein containing vitamins B6, B12, niacin, and biotin. A boneless breast, which is also skinless, has less fat and therefore lesser calories.

The point to be noted here is that the fat around the breast can be easily trimmed than the fat in dark meat found between muscles in the leg.

Fat in chicken is often in the skin. So, boneless skinless breasts and skinless thighs (even dark meat) are both almost lean cuts of meat. Pieces with skin which are drumsticks and wings have higher fat content.


When it comes down to flavour, the winner is your personal choice. Dark meat has an intense flavour as many flavour compounds are fat-soluble. The fat content also tends to make dark meat juicier and the gravy creamier.

White meat cuts are milder in flavour. It is versatile and needs to be seasoned. These cuts dry out quickly so avoid overcooking.

Because of the higher fat content, many find that dark meat softer and tastier. While white meat tends to be milder in flavour.

Chicken breast or white meat cuts tend to cook best in a broth, sauce, or stew to prevent drying out. Whereas dark meat is easier to roast, bake, grill, and pan fry without losing the flavour.


The downside of enjoying red meats is linked to the amount of fat, cholesterol, and sodium content. These factors increase the risk of cardio disease, some cancers, diabetes and high sodium in red meats could lead to high blood pressure.

The moot point is balance. If you don’t follow any certain diet, enjoy ghost dum biryani, laal maas, or galouti kebab but all in moderation.


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