Chicken is undoubtedly one of the most popular proteins in the world. Not only is it easily accessible, but it tastes scrumptious when cooked in many ways, from roasting to frying to grilling. It’s also abundant in vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats to improve your overall health.
But another thing that makes chicken meat a fan-favorite is its versatility. With chicken, you get two different kinds of meat from the same animal—white meat and dark meat. Both are yummy and readily available at any local grocery, but they do have unique traits as well.
Today, it’s white meat vs dark meat chicken. We will tell you all about the differences between these two delicious meats, and which you might favor depending on your texture, flavor, and nutritional preferences. Curious to know more? Keep scrolling!
Chickens Produce Two Kinds of Meat
There are two types of chicken meat—white and dark meat. From their names, it’s easy to glean that you can tell the two kinds of meat apart from their color. White meat has a light, pinkish hue, while dark meat has a deeper pink or even red color.
But what gives these meats their color in the first place? The answer to that is simple—the amount of myoglobin in them.
Myoglobin is a protein that is rich in iron. This protein gives specific parts of chicken meat their color. Its job is to store oxygen in an animal’s active muscle cells. So, the more a specific muscle is used or strained, the more myoglobin it’s bound to have.
The more myoglobin a cut of meat has, the darker and more tender it will be. A chicken’s thighs and legs, for example, tend to be used a lot, since it will walk to different parts of the farm every day. Because of that, there is a ton of myoglobin in these cuts, making them dark meat.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have chicken breasts and wings. These are body parts that don’t necessarily get strained or moved around a lot in a chicken’s life. So, they don’t have a lot of myoglobin. As a result, these meats are white meat.
Want to learn more about what makes meat white or dark? Check out this video to get a better understanding of the science behind the two kinds of meat:
What is White Meat?
White chicken meat is lean and dense. It usually comes from the breast and wing of a chicken. These body parts have fast-twitch fibers—muscles that aid in a chicken’s fast-burst activity but don’t usually get strained.
White meat chicken has a reputation as the “healthier” meat. And it’s not a myth—objectively, chicken breast is perfect for those who are more health-conscious. It’s packed with protein and has fewer calories than dark meat. There are 165 calories per 100 grams of white meat.
What is Dark Meat?
Although white meat is a tad bit healthier than dark meat, the latter is arguably more flavorful and delicious. Think about it—when you’re carving roasted chicken at home, doesn’t everyone want to grab the thigh or leg? That’s because of the robust, juicy meat from those parts of the bird.
Dark meat is made from the parts of a chicken that are used more often and have a lot of myoglobin. These parts have slow-twitch fibers, which allow chickens to do their daily, recurring, locomotive movements, such as walking and standing.
Dark meat from drumsticks and chicken thighs has a red or deep pink tone when uncooked. These cuts are way more affordable than the coveted chicken breast. But that doesn’t mean the flavor isn’t there. On the contrary, dark meat is known to taste juicier, fattier, and more scrumptious.
That said, it also gives you a few more extra calories. For every 100 grams of dark chicken meat, you can expect to ingest 178 calories.
Comparing White Meat vs Dark Meat Chicken
You might know the difference between white and dark chicken meat only at face value. Healthy adults like chicken breast in their salad, and kids love the bold flavor of drumsticks. But the differences don’t stop there.
Let’s compare these two types of meat through three factors—their nutritional value to your diet, the meat’s texture, and lastly, their flavor profile.
1. Nutritional value
Of course, nutrition is a huge factor in choosing which chicken meat to go with. White and dark meat are both abundant in vitamins and minerals, but they vary quite significantly.
Let’s start with white meat. We’ve already established that white meat is low in calories, making it the perfect option for those who are watching their weight.
This type of meat is rich in protein, which plays a huge role in growing muscle and repairing damaged cells. If you’re looking to hit the gym and bulk up your muscles, white chicken meat might be the best option for you.
Niacin, a type of vitamin B, is also found in white meat. This powerhouse vitamin reduces the risk of having high cholesterol, relieves arthritis pain, and even boosts brain function.
On the other hand, dark meat has a higher saturated fat content. But that doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy. It actually has healthy fats, like omega-3. This fatty acid prevents cardiovascular diseases, like stroke and heart disease. It can also help manage breakouts on the skin.
Other nutrients you can find in dark meat include zinc, which is excellent for boosting the immune system and wound healing, as well as selenium, which has antioxidants to protect your body against free radical damage.
2. Texture and mouthfeel
Some chicken lovers have a love-hate relationship with the texture of white meat. It tends to be quite dry since it has a low-fat content, making it less moist. It’s also prone to getting overcooked, which adds even more to its tough and dry texture.
On the other hand, dark meat is more forgiving in the pan. It rarely overcooks, so you’re bound to get a soft, tender, juicy texture every time. It definitely has a much more decadent mouthfeel that children and picky eaters will prefer over white meat.
3. Richness of flavor
Lastly, we have flavor. While cooking white or dark meat requires you to season the chicken first, one type is more flavorful than the other.
Since white meat is drier and leaner, it’s not as flavorful. Some people might describe it as bland or having a neutral taste. So, when cooking white meat, it’s best to marinate or season it thoroughly. Cooking it in a stew or serving it with sauce is also a great idea.
Dark meat, on the other hand, has a lot more fat. This makes the meat naturally juicier and moister, which helps elevate its sweet and savory flavor. Kids and people who love more flavorful, indulgent meats will naturally gravitate more toward dark meat.
While white meat needs extra help with seasoning, dark meat can hold its own much better in terms of flavor. You can cook dark meat in a rotisserie or just pan-fried with a good amount of seasoning, and it’s bound to taste delicious.
How Long Do Light Meat and Dark Meat Last?
Although we’ve covered a lot of differences between white and dark chicken meat, they do have one thing in common—their shelf life. Regardless of your meat’s color and fat content, its freshness will remain the same.
If your cuts of chicken are freshly butchered, you have around 1-2 hours to cook them before they go bad. If you live somewhere with particularly high temperatures, consider cooking fresh meat within one hour to prevent spoiling.
If you can’t cook your fresh meat right away, keep it in the refrigerator. Chicken meat can last 2-3 days here, so if you’re looking to try new chicken recipes within the week, you can keep your meat in the fridge.
But if you’re storing for the long term, move your chicken out of the fridge and into the freezer. Here, your white and dark chicken meat can last up to six months.
You can get white and dark chicken from different cuts of meat. White meat is often seen in the chicken’s breasts and wings, while dark meat is in the chicken’s thighs and legs. But regardless of which part of the chicken you consume, you’re bound to enjoy every bite!
Both white and dark chicken meat has a place in any chicken lover’s regular diet. White meat has less fat and a whole lot of protein, making it perfect for those watching their weight and looking to build muscle. Meanwhile, dark meat is flavorful and juicy, so they’re quite the indulgent treat.
We hope you’ve learned a lot today about the difference between white and dark chicken meat. Got any more chicken-related questions for us? Feel free to ask them down below in the comments!