Most of us have a preference when it comes to white or dark meat on a chicken or turkey, but you may have wondered what the difference is beside the color.
Read on, because we’ve got the answers here from two experts from the University of Arkansas. Dr. Janeal Yancey is a meat scientist, and Dr. Casey Owens-Hanning, is a poultry scientist.
White meat cuts on chickens or turkeys are found in the breast, the breast tenders and wings, while dark meat comes from the drumsticks and thighs. The reason for the difference in color is because they are two separate types of muscle.
Dr. Yancey says that dark meat, like drumsticks and thighs are used to hold the bird up and for walking. This means that they are used to working for long periods of time. White meat like the breast and wings are needed to perform in short bursts when the bird flaps its wings. Breast meat in ducks is classed as dark meat because ducks fly for sustained periods of time, which uses their breast muscles.
Dark meat muscles use more oxygen than white meat ones, and they have more iron in them. The iron is stored in a protein called myoglobin, which gives dark meat its characteristic color. White meat muscles have less myoglobin, and are therefore lighter in color.
So is White or Dark Meat Better for You?
All chicken is a good source of protein, vitamin B6, biotin, niacin and vitamin B12, but there is a slight nutritional difference between white and dark meat.
Apart from the increased iron levels in dark meat, it does have more fat and calories than the white stuff. A boneless, skinless chicken breast and tenders is the meat cut to go for if you are watching your weight or want to cut down on your fat intake.
Fat in chicken is most often found in the skin, and skinless breast and thighs are lean cuts of meat. If you cook with the skin on, you will up the fat content of your dish. So, dark and white meat are good for you as long as you remove the skin before cooking.
Which One Tastes Better?
It’s all down to individual preference, but dark meat has a slightly stronger flavor, which is down to the higher fat content. White meat may need extra flavors added, as it can be quite bland on its own, but dark meat can stand alone as far as flavor is concerned.
White meat can get dry and tasteless quickly, so it helps to cook it in a way where moisture is retained, such as cooking it in a covered skillet. Avoid overcooking it by using a meat thermometer to cook to 165F, and not much more. Always insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken or cut of meat. If it’s a bone-in cut like chicken drumsticks, that may be next to the bone.
White meat cuts are more popular in restaurants, as chicken breasts go with a lot of dishes and their mild taste works well with a lot of flavors. You can create a tasty dish with chicken thighs and drumsticks too, by cooking them in a casserole or slow cooker with stock and vegetables.