I am roasting a turkey breast for dinner this evening, which got me thinking, “what is it that makes the dark meat dark?”
Or, for that matter, the white meat white?
Turns out that the more active muscles in a bird need more oxygen. The highly active muscles are filled with blood vessels that contain myoglobin (muscle hemoglobin). Consequently, the more myoglobin the muscle has, the darker it appears.
So, in a turkey, the legs and thighs (which are the most active) are dark. The wings (which aren’t used for sustained flying) are less active, and thus have less myoglobin, and are lighter.
The taste difference is simply attributed to the type of muscle present.
Chickens are similar to turkeys, whereas ducks and pheasants (who do use their breast muscles for sustained flying) have all dark meat.
I’ve been trying to use turkey more often in cooking. It seems like every Thanksgiving I say to myself, “why don’t we eat this more often during the year?”
Ben Franklin advocated making the turkey the national bird and symbol of our nation. While I do think turkeys are pretty cool, they are also too tasty to set aside.
Sorry, Ben, but if you would have gotten your way I’d have to order a pizza tonight!