When it comes to eating meats, many people will reach for mutton or lamb. Most of these people, however, don’t know the difference between the two. While it is true that they both from sheep, there are some significant differences between them.
The first primary difference between mutton and lamb is the age. Lamb is a sheep that is less than a year old while mutton are sheep that are more than a year old. Some farmers and butchers consider sheep that are older than six months old to be mutton if they are large sheep or have more muscle meat than sheep of similar age, but this age range is generally called hogget.
Texture and Flavor
Secondly, a distinct difference between mutton and lamb is the texture and flavor. As meats age (when the animal is still alive) they become tougher from a combination of age and from use. The more the animal moves, grows, and uses its muscles, the tougher they become. As with any animal, age comes with changes to the muscles, including less strength and flexibility. Since mutton does not have the flexibility of lamb, the meat becomes tougher as it takes them a little more effort to move. When meat becomes tougher, chemical changes in their bodies will change the flavor of the meat. Lamb has a richer taste, and while not very salty, it has a distinct sweet flavor. Mutton, on the other hand, has a more salty and drier taste. The reason for the added salt is the food they eat, as grasslands often have a higher sodium content and the more that was eaten the more the meat will taste naturally salty. Mutton also tends to be fattier and more oily when cooked.
Many people who do consume the meat of lambs or sheep are more partial to the tender meat of a younger lamb. Tender meat has less fat, less tendon material and is softer with a sweet taste. Those who prefer mutton often say it is for the hearty salty taste that accompanies it. Some butchers do tend to cure the lamb meat with salt for a time before selling it, but it often will still contain a more tender texture.
One difference that sets apart mutton and lamb is the price of the meat. Since lamb is more tender and has a richer flavor, it is more desired than mutton. Due to this, lamb is often much more expensive than mutton. Mutton was so cheap during World War I and II that most meat rations for soldiers was made from mutton. When the soldiers arrived home, many swore off mutton, which is part of the reason lamb isn’t a more popular meat in the United States and why it is more expensive.