What is the Difference Between Lamb and Mutton? A lot, and in many cases, you might be eating Mutton thinking it's lamb.
Today we will show you the key differences so when you go shopping again, you will know how to tell Mutton from Lamb and be misled or overcharged.
We highlight the key areas in Age Difference, Taste, Color Difference, and the Price points for both. We'll also teach you how to tell Lamb from Mutton just by looking, at which meat is more tender, the differences in cooking, and why Americans don't like Lamb.
Age Difference Between Lamb and Mutton
Lamb meat is simply meat from young sheep under one year of age.
Mutton is the meat of mature sheep, harvested between 2 to 3 years of age to produce mutton cuts.
To go a bit deeper, there are two Lamb sub-categories based on the specific age of lamb at harvest:
Baby Lamb – Refers to lamb meat aged 6 to 10 weeks old. This type of lamb is famous for making incredibly tender Lamb chops due to its small size and less gamey flavor.
- Spring Lamb – Refers to the meat of Lamb between 5 to 6 months old. This variety of Lamb is among the most desirable cuts on the market.
There is one Mutton Sub-Category based on the specific age of mutton at harvest:
- Yearling Mutton – the meat is from sheep between 12 to 24 months.
In the United States, most retailers sell Lamb meat 24 months or older, thus making it Mutton.
Although, it will likely be (mis) labeled and marketed as Lamb, which is allowed but quite misleading for consumers as Mutton is considered inferior in quality, taste, and texture to real Lamb i.e. under 12 months.
Image: Young Lamb left and 3-year-old Sheep (Mutton) on the right.
Taste Difference Between Lamb and Mutton
Mutton meat has a more robust and gamey taste than cuts of lamb.
Lamb boasts a very delicate, mild even slightly sweet flavor. Lamb has more of a natural clean grass-fed taste.
Although, the Mutton’s bolder flavors are softened when slow-cooked or braised since these cooking methods break down the tougher Mutton meat fibers. Mutton can also be very fatty.
When purchased from reliable retailers who offer top-quality Lamb cuts, you will find that Lamb does not have the same gamey taste as Mutton. The Lamb's delicate meat pairs well with a host of popular Lamb sauces and marinades.
This is perhaps the biggest reason most Americans do not like Lamb... because they have in fact always been sold Mutton which is gamey and has a greasy consistency especially when fried or grilled.
Which tastes better, Lamb or Mutton?
For us, Lamb wins hands down every time. Lamb has a far superior taste, soft texture, and mouthfeel when eating. Lamb may be more expensive, but it is worth every penny.
There is nothing quite like spring Lamb straight off the grill.
Meat Color Difference Between Lamb and Mutton
Lamb meat features a lighter, pink color when raw.
Mutton meat often has a deep, dark red hue.
Smell The Difference Between Lamb and Mutton
Raw Lamb meat has a sweet and fresh smell. You can almost smell the grass from the lovely light meat of Lamb.
Raw Mutton meat has more of a pungent smell with a definite aged gamey scent on the nose. Wool-producing sheep that were harvested 2 years or older will also have a definite oily smell due to the presence of lanolin in the sebaceous glands.
Price Difference Between Lamb and Mutton
Lamb is among the more costly meat cuts available on the market.
Certain cuts like Lamb Rib Chops and Rack of Lamb are quite expensive since experienced butchers utilize French trimming to remove excess meat from the ribs for presentation.
Depending on the Lamb cut, expect to pay around $18 to 40 per lb. for good quality Lamb.
Mutton is much cheaper in comparison to its younger counterpart.
In most cases, Mutton will be considerably cheaper than Lamb.
Expect to pay around $9 to 12 per lb. for Mutton
Mutton as Lamb - Are You Getting The Wool Pulled Over Your Eyes?
With Mutton being so cheap in comparison, it should come as no surprise that Mutton (and Goat meat) is regularly sold to US consumers as Lamb and at Lamb prices.
In the US, the Grading into Lamb, Yearlings, and Mutton is voluntary and therefore left to producers to classify. This in turn leaves the door open to some tinkering and mislabelling.
For an insight into just how bad the problem is in the US, check out the video report below.
39 restaurants and food trucks in Los Angeles and New York that sold Lamb were lab tested to see if they were selling genuine Lamb.
Sadly, 23% of the samples analyzed came back as Goat, Mutton, Beef... even Chicken!
How to Tell the Difference Between Lamb and Mutton just by looking?
So you don't get caught out buying Mutton at Lamb prices at the grocery store, or being served Mutton when you ordered Lamb at a restaurant, here are 4 key visual differences to watch out for:
1. Color Difference: Lamb will have a pink appearance. Mutton will have a deep red color.
2. Fat Difference: Lamb Chops will be leaner and have a fat cap on the outside. Mutton Chops will be much fatter throughout.
3. Size Difference: Lamb cuts will be about half the size of mutton cuts. Mutton cuts are much bigger than Lamb.
4. Rib Size Difference: This is an easy one. The Ribs of a Lamb Rack will be small, thin, and light.
Rib Size Differences Visual Illustration Below
Mutton Rib bones are much thicker and denser as the animal was much older.
Lamb Rib bones are much smaller and more delicate than those of Mutton.
Cut Size and Color Differences Visual Illustration Below
Image: Mutton Loin Chops, darker color and large size.
Image: Lamb Loin Chops, lighter meat color, and much smaller size than the same cut of Mutton.
The difference in bone size, cut size and meat color are by far and away the easiest ways to tell Lamb from Mutton.
Tenderness Difference Between Lamb and Mutton
Lamb meat cuts are tender and soft, particularly when harvested at six months or younger. Lamb meat is easy to chew due to its tenderness.
Since Mutton is produced from much older sheep, Mutton meat is much tougher than that of Lamb. Also, more fat is usually found in mutton cuts since a greater concentration of fatty acids develops in the animal over time.
Cooking Method Difference Between Lamb and Mutton
Lamb is versatile and may be prepared differently depending on the cut.
For example, Lamb Loin Chops taste incredible when cooked quickly and served grilled, pan-fried, or even in an air fryer whereas Lamb Shanks are preferred for pressure cooking.
Lamb has a lovely balance of lean and fat making it perfect for enjoying Lamb leftovers as Lamb meat reheats nicely without drying out like pork for example.
Image: Air Fryer Lamb Chops
Mutton, however, really needs slow cooking due to the meats' age and toughness. Although, braising and incorporating the Mutton into stews is a great way to enjoy Mutton and an easy way to break down all the tough fibers.
Image: Bengali Mutton Curry. A good example of a popular Mutton dish that needs long slow and low cooking in liquid to tenderize the tough meat fibers of Mutton meat.
Popularity by Region: Lamb versus Mutton
Mutton meat is commonly found in Middle Eastern, Indian Subcontinent, Mongolia, and South American cuisines.
In contrast, Lamb meat is preferred in Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and Canada. Therefore, you will find more Lamb cuts in these places over Mutton.
Why Americans don't like the Taste of Lamb?
In the US, it is a classic case of "Mutton dressed as Lamb" where most meat sold as Lamb was harvested at 24 months which is in fact (overpriced) Mutton in any other country.
Most American-raised lamb comes from older sheep (Mutton) as there is no age restriction in the US when labeling the meat “Lamb”.
The USDA does not have a clear definition to differentiate the two, with any sheep meat 24 months and under being allowed to be called Lamb.
With cheaper Mutton having a more gamey taste, stronger smell, more fat / greasy, and also tougher meat - most Americans have become accustomed to thinking this is what Lamb tastes like which is not the case. In many cases, Americans have had a bad eating experience with Mutton thinking they bought Lamb.
Is Goat Meat the Same as Lamb or Mutton?
No, Goat is very different from Mutton and Lamb.
In terms of tenderness and taste, Goat and Mutton do have similar traits of being tougher and more gamey whereas Lamb has a much more refined taste and softer mouthfeel.
After reading this quick guide to Lamb and Mutton differences, we hope that you will be able to distinguish between each type of sheep meat to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.
- Lamb is less than 1-year-old meat from a sheep.
- Mutton is older than a year, generally 2 to 3 years old.
- Lamb is about 60 to 70% more expensive than Mutton.
- Lamb is tender and can be fried or grilled.
- Mutton is tougher and needs slow cooking.
- Mutton is gamey and quite fatty.
- Lamb has a sweeter more subtle flavor.
- A lot of meat sold as Lamb in the US is in fact a 2-year-old Mutton.
- Mutton is popular in the Middle East.
- Lamb is more popular in Europe.