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Jul 7, 2013 09:48 AM

Lamb that does not lamb?

My wife said she is willing to try lamb, but....finds the smell of small lamb a bit overpowering. I have heard some lamb is indeed a little less strong smelling, but can't recall which (not sure if it was a geographic or feed difference).

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  1. My best advice is to get baby lamb. We have it every Easter and it is delicious! My dad eats anything & everything except lamb, and he can enjoy this meal because there is no lamby smell. Now, where you get butchered baby lamb, I don't know.

    1. I think you will find the New Zealand or Aussie imported lamb will be the mildest.

      11 Replies
      1. re: chefj

        Would agree on the New Zealand lamb. I like my lamb to properly taste of lamb and am a big fan of mutton also. I find NZ lamb too bland for my taste.

        1. re: Paprikaboy

          They all have their place in my mind(and Kitchen).

          1. re: Paprikaboy

            As Paprikaboy, I'd also look out for young New Zealand lamb. Certainly it's generally the mildest in flavour, so would probably be mildest in smell. It's not a meat I'd ever choose to eat as I much prefer a proper lamby taste. I don't believe I've ever come across Australian lamb so don't know if that might be worth a try.

            1. re: Harters

              I just bought a lamb shoulder yesterday from Australia. I live in CA.

          2. re: chefj

            <<New Zealand or Aussie imported lamb will be the mildest.>>

            Disagree. Australian is about the most muttony. Of course, all depends on the producer, breed, etc. Those cryovac packages are pretty skanky when they're first opened. The long time in cryovac and the purge contribute to the muttony flavor.

            The mildest lamb is spring/new/baby lamb. It's light in flavor -- doesn't have that muttony twang.

            After that, Colorado lamb. Sonoma CK lamb. Locally sourced lamb. Seek out fresh lamb that is raised closest to where you are. Call around to get a good source.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              We just had lamb chops from a Northern NV, all grassfed ranch. THE best lamb we've ever had and now I'm going to buy a whole one from them.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  These are the times I remind myself of Northern Nevada's Basque sheepherding heritage. Yum indeed :) Come on up the hill some time. You bring the wine :)

              1. re: maria lorraine

                I have to agree on Australian lamb. I dislike that gamey flavor, and I found almost all lamb I had there to be barely edible.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  "Of course, all depends on the producer, breed, etc."
                  And there you have it.
                  Most folks are not buying Lamb from small local producers for BIG bucks. If the OP wants to find locally raised young, grass fed and can afford it may be the mildest. If it is grain finished and contains more fat or is older that may not be the case.
                  I agree that between the N.Z. and Aussie the first will be the mildest due to the grazing and the age. The Australian stuff varies more widely.

              2. Was just reading the section on lamb in Edward Lee's book, "Smoke & Pickles." He says there are a lot of great lamb producers here in the States and that you should try to find one at a farmers' market near you. He says to look for lamb that has grazed on grass, is hormone free, and has not been penned and that it will be mild and creamy and harbaceous and the complete antithesis of gamey.

                The producer he buys from is Pricey. But now that I've read what Lee has to say about it, I'm very eager to try it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: JoanN

                  Should have read the whole thread before posting :) The ranch I'm going to get mine from is just a local, family run operation so they deal locally. They also sell at our co-op which is where I got the chops we had last night. Frugal Scotsman Bob doesn't care what it costs - he WANTS it! From their website it says it's $150 plus the cut and wrap charge. Sold :)

                2. I almost buy it when it's on sale, so it's not baby and it's not grass fed. I always marinade it Greek style, like a gyro, and everyone seems to love it, regardless of initial trepidations. I use lots of lemon juice and garlic and oregano. Maybe that would help?

                  But I think it's always NZ or Australia, I thought those was supposed to be gamy but now I see I was possibly wrong about that.

                  1. Sounds like contradictory advice emerging so far. Good luck! I was actually attending a County Fair auction yesterday (in Indiana, USA), and while I asked about the food the young 4-H boy was using for his two lambs, I wish I'd asked more about the lambey-flavor issue.

                    For people who complain about lamb tasting too lambey, I already feel a bit puzzled, but I know I've heard the lambey-phobes insist either that New Zealand, Aussie, or American lamb is their favorite, because of being less lambey.

                    I googled a bit from curiosity, and one line from a fairly legit scholarly source struck me, as they commented on how complicated it is to say anything definitive about lamb taste and consumer preferences:

                    "Research shows that flavor ratings appear to be largely related to the panelist's preference and previous exposure to lamb..."


                    The article also notes that no one has yet isolated scientifically what it is that accounts for lambey flavor.

                    And all that still leaves unclear where people can reliably locate the lamb that tastes least like lamb...

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      Golly, don't wish to cast asperions here, but....

                      That's not a good article to use. It's old, it wasn't peer-reviewed.

                      And it appears she didn't read her own citations.

                      Your quote also leads people to believe that the unique flavor of lamb is not understood. It is.

                      It's long been known (nearly 60 years) that the source of lamb flavor is mostly aroma from carbonyl compounds. As to the prevalence or lack of those compounds, they vary by breed, by pasture/silage, by age of the animal, by changes in the reproductive cycle, by many things.

                      More to the point: Lamb farming has entirely changed since that was article was written.

                      If you can gather some current scientific info on the molecular underpinnings of lamb flavor, and the variances by breed, etc., that would be worth reading.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Actually, I appreciate your concern with sources. It's all too rare on the internet, even in better quality sites like this one. But I want you to respond to let me know more about the basis of your high dudgeon.

                        I was rather casual in my browsing and referencing here. But I am a professor at a research university myself, although not in animal science, and I definitely take sources' claims to authority into account. In this case, I figured that something maintained on a state (WI) agricultural extension website must have some "farm cred." It also cites sources from refereed journals. I called it a "fairly legit" scholarly resource on that basis.

                        On looking further, it appears that this is 2008 transcript from a presentation given by an animal and veterinary science professor from a research university (Clemson). One further caveat: the quotation is actually a citation the author makes to a source from 2000. When did lamb science and farming morph so dramatically? Which source(s) did the author fail to read? (I'm asking seriously, not rhetorically.) It's not my place in the world to promulgate scientific information on molecular underpinnings of flavor.

                        You seem pretty certain, so let us know your basis for resolving the issue into one of "carbonyl compounds." The article that I referenced actually led into the original quotation that I offered with this remark:

                        "Several compounds (branched chain fatty acids, carbonyl compounds, sulfur- containing compounds, lipid oxidation products, phenols, and basic compounds) are believed to impact lamb flavor; however, the specific compound(s) responsible for the characteristic lamb flavor and odor have not been identified."

                        Perhaps I have too much time on my hands if I am replying at this length, but I frankly feel that you are of a mind to dismiss both that author and myself while at the same time not giving better than what you got.

                        I'll probably regret replying later, but here it is.

                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          Oh, I'm not dismissing you. You used a poor choice of article, that's all. Flavor chemistry has come a long way in the past ten years identifying molecules, or groups of molecules, that create a particular flavor -- that of an apple, a beet, a lamb chop, etc.

                          Lamb farming, in the advent of artisanal foods and the locavore movement, has also brought new smaller producers online, in all parts of the globe. The flavor quality of their lamb -- knowing the huge aversion to gamey, mutton-y lamb -- is mild and delicious.

                          <<High dudgeon>>?? Not in the slightest.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Good enough. Thanks for replying. I still scratch my head at the idea that recent smaller-scale, locavore trends have taught us much that's new, because those tactics in fact amount to the return of older approaches.

                            I can believe that flavor science has progressed in ten years. A friend of mine does basic enzyme research, and those folks certainly aren't where they were 10 years ago.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              I took some time to investigate what current academic research indicates about lamb flavor. Here is the latest relevant document:

                              Watkins, P.J., et al. "Sheepmeat Flavor and the Effect of Different Feeding Systems : A Review." Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 61.15 (2013): 3561 -3579.

                              If you'd like a pdf file of the article, I can send one. The review actually echoes exactly what Drucker said: scientists are still scratching their heads about the variables affecting lamb flavor. I won't paste in too much here, out of respect for copyright, but here is part of the abstract:

                              "Despite considerable research, there is no consensus on
                              which volatiles are essential for desirable lamb aroma and how they differ compared to other red meats, for example, beef. In contrast, comparatively little work has focused specifically on the nonvolatile taste components of lamb flavor."

                              It's quite striking looking at several articles: there appear to be enough variables in play with lamb flavor--not least of which is subjective variation in what counts as appealing--that scientists have not been able to settle the issue of what it is or how it can be managed in one or another direction.

                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                Thanks for that. Before I posted earlier, I read that the aromatic/flavor molecules that had been identified as lamb had been differentiated from beef and pork, etc. I'll try to unearth this again.