Why does everything taste like chicken?
“Hmm, that tastes nice!” “What does it taste like?” “Chicken!”
How any times have you heard this? There’s no denying it: new meats often taste like chicken. Granted, beef tastes like beef and pork tastes like pork (and so do humans). Yet so many other meats taste like chicken: quail, goose, frog, snake, snapping turtle, giant salamander, pigeon… (I confess I haven’t eaten the last two.) To understand why this is, you need to know that there are only so many different types of muscle (or meat). The meat that you usually eat comes in two main types: white and red. White meat (like chicken breast) is actually a type of muscle designed for fast movements (called ‘fast twitch’). Red meat (like beef steak) is a muscle designed for endurance and prolonged standing (‘slow twitch’). Chickens don’t do much in the way of endurance exercise – just lots of flapping – so they have mostly white meat. Cattle, on the other hand, do lots of standing and walking and so have more red meat (‘slow twitch’ muscle). Many other animals are similar to the chicken in the exercise they do (for example, a frog will do short bouts of swimming) and so have a muscle composition similar to the chicken. There’s a bit more to it: chicken meat (particularly from the breast) doesn’t have much fat. This makes the chicken meat dry in texture and fairly bland. (Just ask anyone on a low calorie diet if you doubt that low fat food tastes bland.) Many cuts of meat from other animals are similarly lean, giving it a similar texture and blandness – there isn’t much fat on a snake, for example. Therefore, when a meat tastes bland, we say it tastes similar to a bland meat we are familiar with: chicken. If we ate lots of frog, we’d probably say everything tastes like frog! One zoologist, Joe Staton, has a theory that sums it all up. He thinks that meat flavours have evolved over millions of years. After eating lots of meats, he drew an evolutionary tree of meat flavours: he claims that most meats that we eat have come from a four-legged chicken-flavoured animal ancestor (with the exception of beef, pork and venison which evolved from a different ancestor). Check out his
chart here. You can also use his evolutionary meat tree to make predictions about what certain meats will taste like. For example, Tyrannosaurus Rex tastes like chicken. And so does cat. I think we’ll have to take his word for it on that one.