Most of us are familiar with the primary meat categories like beef, chicken, and pork, but really these meats are just the entryway to a lot of other types of meats out there. Some of the less common options include things like venison, veal, and lamb.
It seems like many people shy away from some of these options simply because they are specialty meats or they aren’t really familiar with what they are and how to cook them. Today, we’re going to focus on veal and lamb.
What is the difference between veal and lamb? The primary difference between veal and lamb is that veal is from cow calves while lamb meat is from young sheep (or lambs). Veal and lamb are both more tender than beef and mutton, but lamb tends to have a stronger and gamier taste than veal.
In this guide, we will walk you through a comprehensive overview of veal vs. lamb and let you know just what the differences are overall.
These two types of meat are commonly thought to be the same thing, but they’re actually very different, and we’re here to break it down for you.
The Difference Between Veal and Lamb
As we work our way through this guide, it’ll be much easier to start by explaining one item and then the other.
Once we cover each of these items individually, we will round up the guide with a summary review and clarify the similarities and differences before we wrap everything up for you. Let’s start with veal.
Veal meat comes from calves. Typically, we think of cow meat as beef, and this is true, but beef and veal are not the same.
Beef comes from mature cattle, while veal comes from calves that haven’t yet reached maturity. The most common place that veal comes from is young males that are bred in dairy cow families.
Veal is considered a specialty meat. The calves that this meat comes from typically weigh between 150-350 pounds, approximately. Because they are much smaller than the adults, they produce much less meat, which is one reason why it is less commonly produced.
The most common country known for producing veal is Australia, but veal can be raised and produced anywhere, really.
What Does Veal Taste Like?
You might expect veal to taste just like beef. After all, isn’t it the same meat from the same animal?
Well, you will find that cuts of veal are very similar to cuts of beef. There are tenderloins and rumps and several other cuts that are similar as far as title and style of cut.
However, veal is much more tender than beef because the calves’ muscles are underdeveloped and therefore less tough. Veal also has a more delicate and neutral flavor.
Many actually prefer veal over beef for these reasons, just as you may prefer lamb over mutton.
How Is Veal Used in Cooking?
Veal meat is commonly used in traditional dishes from several cultures. Foods like Mediterranean, Italian, and French cuisine all have popular dishes that use veal meat. The veal in most of these dishes is typically from cutlets.
But veal can be used in a lot of different ways, just like any other type of meat. Don’t be afraid to try new things and put it into unconventional dishes.
Veal doesn’t require heavy seasoning and often is paired with dishes that have a light flavor to them. However, veal also tastes great cooked in recipes that require cooking wine or wine sauces.
Some examples of veal dishes are as follows:
- Veal parmigiana
- Grilled meat
- Meat stews
- Veal Piccata
- Veal Scallopini
- Roast veal with mushrooms
- Veal marsala
- Veal pot roast
- Breaded veal cutlets
- Veal burgers or patties
- Veal steaks
- Veal chops
These are just a few ideas, but there are a ton of options for things that you can make with veal. Veal bones are really useful for making stock and soups and sauces as well.
One primary similarity between lamb and veal is that both of these meats are produced from young animals. Much like veal comes from a young calf, lamb comes from a young sheep. Mutton is the meat that comes from adult sheep.
This is another specialty meat. A lamb is typically considered to be a sheep that is under 12 months of age. There is not necessarily a weight requirement for the category.
This was the traditional age but in the United States, lamb now comes mostly from sheep that are between 12-14 months of age. According to the USDA, a lamb can be aged up to 20 months.
The most common weight category for lamb is between 12-66 pounds, but there are no strict requirements.
Lamb meat typically is very tender. Lamb shanks and legs are the most common cuts of lamb. There are other areas of the lamb, but these are the most popular.
Here are a few of the cuts that are used:
- Ribs, rib roast, or rack
- Leg of lamb or sirloin chops
- Shoulder (shoulder roast or shoulder chops)
Some countries use more areas of meat than others, but these are common cuts. The tongue is popular in the Middle East as well.
The top countries for lamb production include Australia (which is also high for veal), New Zealand, Algeria, India, and China, and the UK.
What Does Lamb Taste Like?
Just like veal is different from beef, lamb is different from mutton. It is more tender while still being firm. It has a stronger taste than beef but a more delicate flavor than rich mutton.
It can have a gamey taste, depending on how it is prepared.
How Is Lamb Used in Cooking?
Lamb is typically prepared to medium doneness. This is really a matter of preference, but that is the most common, especially when it comes to the most popular lamb dish in the U.S., lamb chops.
However, in different cultural dishes, lamb is cooked to different levels.
For example, lamb meat used in Greek cuisine is traditionally cooked to well done, while many French dishes require it to be rare. There are many different ways to enjoy lamb and different traditional dishes it can be used in as well.
Here are a few options to consider:
- Seasoned lamb chops
- Roast lamb with potatoes and carrots and glaze
- Shredded lamb shoulder
- Glazed or marinated lamb chops
- Lamb soup or stew
- Lamb meatballs
- Sliced leg of lamb (similar to brisket slices)
- Lamb gyros
- Rack of lamb with a sweet glaze
- Lamb burgers
- Braised lamb shanks
- Moroccan lamb tagine
- Lamb kebabs
We really probably could go on and on with this list. There are a lot of different cultural dishes that can be made with lamb.
Lamb is incredibly tender and works well with savory seasonings and glazes.
Veal Vs. Lamb – A Comparison
Now that we have discussed both lamb and veal on different levels, let’s compare them. Now you know the differences, but what are the similarities?
Both of these meats come from a young livestock animal and both are very tender meats that can be versatile in nature. That’s where the similarities come to an end.
Veal comes from a young calf, while lamb comes from a young sheep. The ages vary depending on location and requirements or terminology. Veal requires only light seasoning and has similar cuts to that of beef.
Lamb has several different cuts but is slightly more limited. The most popular options are shanks, legs, and shoulders. Lamb is usually heartily seasoned or glazed for a savory flavor.
Both of these meats are used in Mediterranean and European dishes, but they are very different in terms of flavor, cuts, and cooking styles.
If you haven’t ventured out and tried lamb or veal yet, now would be a great time. You would be surprised at the copious flavors and the tender style of each of these meats.
While they often cost a bit more, they are both delicious and flavorful in their own way.
If you want a unique or cultural dish, you should definitely check your local grocery store and give these meat options a try.
Just remember, veal and lamb are two different types of meat, and you should know the differences before you shop.
Is Veal Humane?
There has always been some discord as to whether it is inhumane to use calves for veal meat. We want to address this and share just why this meat is harvested from young calves, aside from its coveted flavor and texture.
In the dairy industry, milk-producing cows have to have babies in order to be able to produce the milk that brings us our dairy products. When a dairy cow has a male calf on a dairy farm, the male cannot produce milk.
Only a certain number of males are needed for the breeding process, and these farms don’t have room to keep all the male cows they can’t use or profit from until they grow old enough to sell as plain beef, so this is where veal comes in.
The easiest way to solve the issue, make use of good meat, and gain a profit is to produce veal from that calf.
Some farms, known for “rose veal,” are pushing for the most humane approach to rearing calves for veal.
Rather than using controversial crates that restrict movement in order to keep the meat as tender as possible, more and more farms are allowing their calves more free-range movement.
The redder the veal, the more humane the treatment of the calf it came from, but the less tender it will be.
We’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not it’s alright to consume veal, knowing where it comes from and why.
Is Lamb Humane?
Lamb and mutton are actually touted as some of the most humanely produced meats you can buy.
Most sheep are allowed free range in a pasture to graze on their natural diet of grass, as this is actually the cheapest and most effective way to rear them.
However, as with any meat, there will be always causes for concern for vegetarians, vegans, and animal lovers. These include tail docking and castration.
However, many farmers argue these practices actually do much more to improve the quality of life for their sheep, preventing health issues like flystrike and keeping their sheep more calm and relaxed in the long run.
Again, we’ll leave it up to you to decide.