|Why is it that chicken meat is white, pig meat is
pink, and cows meat is red? Does diet play a
|Question Date: 2008-09-30|
The color of a piece of raw meat depends mostly
on the type of muscle tissue it was cut from and
not on the diet of the animal. Keep in mind that
some animals, like chickens, provide both dark and
white cuts of meat. Darker meats, such steak,
chicken legs or duck breast, are made up of cells
that store a lot of oxygen for sustained activity,
like for a cow "out standing in her field", a
chicken running around pecking at seeds, or a duck
flying for a long migration. White meats, such as
chicken breast, are cut from muscles that didn't
get used as frequently by the animal (chickens
don't fly very much) and thus those muscles didn't
need a constant supply of oxygen. Once cooked, the
taste of a piece of meat depends a lot on how much
exercise the animal's muscle tissue experienced.
For example, veal cooks faster and tastes tenderer
from other beef cuts because veal is cut from
calves that were not exercised.
This is a very good question, and the answer
actually has to do with the composition of the
different meats at a molecular level! As you may
know, the world around us is made up of different
types of atoms, and these atoms assemble together
in different ways to form molecules.
Interestingly, the exact way that the atoms are
arranged in the different molecules causes them to
appear to have different colors (and smells,
tastes, etc...). There is a certain molecule in
meat which gives its red color, that molecule is
called myoglobin. Since the molecule is found in
all types of meat it is the number myoglobin
molecules that differ between the meats, giving
them their color variation. The white meat of
chicken has under 0.05% myolglobin; pork has
0.1-0.3% myoglobin; and beef has 1.5-2.0%
myoglobin. So you can see that as the amount of
myoglobin in a meat gets larger the color of the
meat appears redder!
The diet of an animal
does not make a big contribution to the animals
myoglobin content; however, the fitness level of
the animal may play an important role! For example
an "in shape" cow may have a higher myoglobin
content (making it redder) than an out of shape
cow. This is because the myoglobin molecules in
meat are responsible for transporting oxygen into
the meat, and the more "in shape" an animal is the
more myoglobin molecules it needs.I hope this
What we call meat is
actually muscle. Muscles have a few different
things in them, such as blood vessels and the
actual fibers that contract when the animal moves.
The type and percentage of these things makes the
muscles certain colors.
For example, you
probably already know that poultry (like turkeys
and chickens) have dark meat and white meat.
Chickens walk around most of the time. This is an
aerobic activity. "Aerobic" means that the
chicken breathes in enough oxygen to keep up with
what they're burning. So the muscle fibers in
their legs are a type that uses a constant supply
of oxygen, and doesn't tire out for a long time.
The muscle cells have tiny organelles in them
called mitochondria that use lots of oxygen, but
turn food energy into the energy needed to work
the muscles.They also make the muscle darker.
There are also lots of blood vessels to carry
oxygen into the muscles, making them darker
Chickens only fly occasionally for
short distances to avoid danger.This is an
anaerobic activity. "Anaerobic" means they use
oxygen faster than they can breathe it in, like
you do when you run as fast as you can. So the
muscles that power their wings are a type that
contracts quickly and can work without being
re-supplied with oxygen, but they run out of
energy very fast.
I'd guess that there are
similar reasons for the different muscle colors in
the different animals. Why do you think there's
no "white meat" on a cow?
Do you think that
geese, which fly very long distances to migrate,
have white meat?Thanks for asking,
For some animals, yes, but not for the three
There are two different kinds of
muscle cells, one which is adapted for sudden
bursts of strength, but which tires quickly, and
another that is less strong but can continue to be
active for much longer. The former type is white,
and the latter is red. Most muscle is a mix of
both, but how much of each type determines the
color of the muscle. Chickens, which no longer use
their wings, do not need great endurance in their
flight muscles, so those muscles have lost their
enduring fibers and turned white (unlike their
legs, which are dark). Cows are built to roam and
wander great distances - remember, bison are
basically wild cows. Their muscles are made for
endurance, and have more of the red,
long-endurance fibers. Pigs are somewhere
The main classification of meat is either red
or white. Pig meat (pork) is actually red when raw
and then turns white when cooked so it's not
really a different like pink.
(chickens, ducks, turkeys, etc.), both red and
white meat are possible. The more muscular parts
that are for doing things for a long time
(endurance activities such as flying), use more
oxygen; this requires a large amount of myoglobin.
This gives the meat a red color. Muscles that are
used for short bursts of power do not require as
much oxygen (hence less myoglobin) so they have a
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