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Pork: Light Meat versus Dark Meat


Peter the eater
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I'm well on my way into this year's pig and I'm noticing more than ever a major difference between the light and dark meat. I've never paid much attention to this before, everything looks fairly pinkish when raw, but once cooked it's night and day. Depending on the cut, it's like having dark beef and milky veal in one chop.

Then I started to wonder if the light and dark meat should be used differently, and if there are cultural preferences. Is the comparison similar to poultry?

After some minimal online research, it seems dark meat is more iron-rich, more alkaline, less stressed, fattier, and generally regarded as more flavorful.

So what's up with the famous marketing slogan "Pork: the other white meat"?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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What you're seeing in the pork may be a different phenomenon than what you see with poultry (although I could be wrong about this). With a chicken, you're actually seeing different muscle fiber types; white (or fast twich) in the breasts, red (slow twich) in the legs. To my knowledge mammals aren't so cleanly divided into different fiber types within one animal. the ratio of white to red fiber is largely determined by breeding, and to a lesser degree by the kind of exercise the animal had.

The appearance of light and dark muscle is strongly influenced by the age of the animal at slaughter. Younger ones are lighter (think veal). This atrocity known as "the other white meat" was a marketing campaign in response to America's growing fat phobia. Farmers and grocers were more than happy to deliver younger, leaner (and whiter, and mostly flavorless) pork, because for all the obvious reasons it's cheaper to produce.

When you get a really good pasture-raised, heritage breed pig, the meat is decidedly not white. Or lean, or flavorless. As far as your main question, concerning different coloring within the same cut of meat, I have no idea. I haven't noticed this before, and don't know what the cause or the flavor difference might be.

I'm well on my way into this year's pig and I'm noticing more than ever a major difference between the light and dark meat. I've never paid much attention to this before, everything looks fairly pinkish when raw, but once cooked it's night and day. Depending on the cut, it's like having dark beef and milky veal in one chop.

Then I started to wonder if the light and dark meat should be used differently, and if there are cultural preferences. Is the comparison similar to poultry?

After some minimal online research, it seems dark meat is more iron-rich, more alkaline, less stressed, fattier, and generally regarded as more flavorful.

So what's up with the famous marketing slogan "Pork: the other white meat"?

Notes from the underbelly

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Do you mean with a chop that has sections of both loin and tenderloin, the latter being darker?

No, I don't think so, but I could be wrong. There was so much pork in October that between the cutting and bagging and labeling, one gets anatomically disoriented.

The greatest example is from the thick chops along the back, more anterior than posterior. I'll dig one out later this week and post the before and after cooking photos.

I didn't really frame a clear question in the first post -- I'm just wondering if the light v. dark is an issue for people buying, cooking or consuming pork.

This is interesting:

PSE stands for pale, soft and exudative. It is a description of meat - not live animals. Pork can be PSE, but there is no such thing as a PSE pig. Confusion originates from the fact there is a condition of live pigs called porcine stress syndrome, abbreviated to PSS. Thus a pig can be suffering from PSS, but there is no such thing as PSS pork.

PSE pork was once quite common in Ontario supermarkets, but now it is rare. There has been a reduction in numbers of pigs with PSS which often (but not always) produced PSE pork. Also, much of the pork in our supermarkets is injected with phosphate (enhanced or spiced pork) which reverses the PSE condition. PSE is still important because the mechanism involved still affects fluid losses from pork - and fluid losses from pork amount to millions of dollars annually.

Traces of PSE can sometimes be found in chicken and turkey, where the fluid losses are the major commercial factor. Beef and lamb do not develop obvious PSE, but the mechanism involved can still affect fluid losses - which are always commercially important. - University of Guelph

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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As Paul mentioned, light and dark meat are a consequence of having different compositions of muscle fibres. This will come down to different muscle bundles. So depending on the cut of meat you will have muscles with different proportions of muscle fibres. These muscle types will vary based on muscle location, age, breed and sex of the animal and excercise level.

Basically the skeletal muscle fibre types varies with the function of the muscle. Slow twitch muscle (red or dark muscle) can function over a long time period, where as Fast twitch muscle (white muscle) can contract more powerfully, but for a much shorter period of time. So if you look at something like a sword fish cutlet, you will see white meat with a core of dark meat around the spine. Essentially this means that the fish can swim for a long period of time using the white muscle, but when it needs to the dark muscle along the spine can give is an extra burst of speed for a short time.

According to the pork marketing board in Australia, peope prefer white meat to the exclusion of all others and pork is marketed "The other white meat". Pork in Australia struggles for this reason and because it is so lean. Essentially it is pretty poor eating quality.

With PSS when the pigs get stressed their metabolism goes mad and they start heating up dramatically. When you cut up an animal that dies from this, the meat looks pale and opaque, sort of part cooked already. This is different to the colour of the meat as described above.

Edited by Adam Balic (log)
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I have (personally) found that I prefer the darker cuts from the shoulder, such as blade steaks, to the nasty, dry "loin chops" (with virtually no marbeling to the meat). They cook up jucier and with a lot more flavor! :wub:

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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Simple explanation: dark meat tastes better than light meat! Light meat dries out easier while the dark doesn't and thus holds its flavor better. :rolleyes:

I've learned that artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

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Do you mean with a chop that has sections of both loin and tenderloin, the latter being darker?

No, I don't think so, but I could be wrong. There was so much pork in October that between the cutting and bagging and labeling, one gets anatomically disoriented.

The greatest example is from the thick chops along the back, more anterior than posterior. I'll dig one out later this week and post the before and after cooking photos.

Did it look anything like the photos at the bottom of this page?

http://www.sapork.com/58colour.html

Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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Did it look anything like the photos at the bottom of this page?

http://www.sapork.com/58colour.html

Thanks HKDave, that looks similar. The color difference was small when raw, more visible once cooked.

I know my pig had a charmed life in rural Cape Breton, until she was shot that is. She never seemed high-strung or stressed out, never complained. Could be genetics . . .

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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