Sheep meat is one of the most common meats around the world, taken from the domestic sheep, Ovis aries, and generally divided into lamb, from sheep in their first year, hogget, from sheep in their second, and mutton, from older sheep. Generally, "hogget" and "sheep meat" are not used by consumers outside Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, Scotland, and Australia. Hogget has become more common in England, particularly in the North (Lancashire and Yorkshire) often in association with rare breed and organic farming.

In South Asian and Caribbean cuisine, "mutton" often means goat meat.[1][2][3][4][5] At various times and places, "mutton" or "goat mutton" has occasionally been used to mean goat meat.[1]

Lamb is the most expensive of the three types, and in recent decades, sheep meat has increasingly only been retailed as "lamb", sometimes stretching the accepted distinctions given above. The stronger-tasting mutton is now hard to find in many areas, despite the efforts of the Mutton Renaissance Campaign in the UK. In Australia, the term prime lamb is often used to refer to lambs raised for meat.[6] Other languages, such as French, Spanish, and Italian, make similar or even more detailed distinctions among sheep meats by age and sometimes by sex and diet—for example, lechazo in Spanish refers to meat from milk-fed (unweaned) lambs.

Classifications and nomenclature

Lamb chops with new potatoes and green beans

The definitions for lamb, hogget and mutton vary considerably between countries. Younger lambs are smaller and more tender. Mutton is meat from a sheep over two years old, and has less tender flesh. In general, the darker the colour, the older the animal.

Britain, Australia, and New Zealand

United States

In the early 1900s, mutton was widely consumed in the United States, but mutton consumption has declined since World War II.[11] As of 2010, most sheep meat in the United States comes from animals in between 12 and 14 months old,[12] and is called "lamb"; the term "hogget" is not used.[13] Federal statutes and regulations dealing with food labeling in the United States permit all sheep products to be marketed as "lamb."[14] USDA grades for lamb are only partly a function of the animal's age. Animals up to 20 months old may meet the quality of the "USDA prime" grade depending on other factors, while "USDA choice" lamb can be of any age.[15] "Spring lamb" is defined by the USDA as having been slaughtered between March and October.[16]

Indian subcontinent

Indian-style mutton biryani

The term "mutton" is applied to goat meat in most countries on the Indian subcontinent, and the goat population has been rising. For example, mutton curry is always made from goat meat. It is estimated that over a third of the goat population is slaughtered every year and sold as mutton. The domestic sheep population in India and the Indian subcontinent has been in decline for over 40 years and has survived at marginal levels in mountainous regions, based on wild-sheep breeds, and mainly for wool production.[17]

Other definitions

Butchery and cookery

The meat of a lamb is taken from the animal between one month and one year old, with a carcass weight of between 5.5 and 30 kg (12 and 66 lb). This meat generally is more tender than that from older sheep and appears more often on tables in some Western countries. Hogget and mutton have a stronger flavour than lamb because they contain a higher concentration of species-characteristic fatty acids and are preferred by some.[22] Mutton and hogget also tend to be tougher than lamb (because of connective tissue maturation) and are therefore better suited to casserole-style cooking, as in Lancashire hotpot, for example.

Lamb is often sorted into three kinds of meat: forequarter, loin, and hindquarter. The forequarter includes the neck, shoulder, front legs, and the ribs up to the shoulder blade. The hindquarter includes the rear legs and hip. The loin includes the ribs between the two.

Lamb chops are cut from the rib, loin, and shoulder areas. The rib chops include a rib bone; the loin chops include only a chine bone. Shoulder chops are usually considered inferior to loin chops; both kinds of chops are usually grilled. Breast of lamb (baby chops) can be cooked in an oven.

Leg of lamb is a whole leg; saddle of lamb is the two loins with the hip. Leg and saddle are usually roasted, though the leg is sometimes boiled.

Forequarter meat of sheep, as of other mammals, includes more connective tissue than some other cuts, and, if not from a young lamb, is best cooked slowly using either a moist method, such as braising or stewing, or by slow roasting or American barbecuing. It is, in some countries, sold already chopped or diced.

Lamb shank definitions vary, but generally include:

Mutton barbeque is a tradition in Western Kentucky. The area was strong in the wool trade, which gave them plenty of older sheep that needed to be put to use.[23]

Thin strips of fatty mutton can be cut into a substitute for bacon called macon.

Lamb tongue is popular in Middle Eastern cuisine both as a cold cut and in preparations like stews.[24]


UK, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries

British cuts of lamb

Approximate zones of the usual UK cuts of lamb:[25]

US and Ireland

New Zealand


Production and consumption figures

Sheep meat consumption

According to the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook for 2016, the top consumers of sheep meat in 2015 were as follows:[28] EU countries are not individually surveyed in this list. Among EU nations, Greece is the per capita leader in consumption at 12.3 kg,[29] while the UK's annual per capita lamb consumption is 4.7 kg.[30] Outside of the OECD, the largest per capita consumer overall is Mongolia, with 45.1 kg.[30]

Sheep meat production

The table below gives a sample of producing nations, but many other significant producers in the 50–120 kt range are not given.

Sheep meat production (kt)
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
8,415 8,354 8,229 8,348 8,470
179 197 205 253 261
660 635 556 513 556
79 80 82 84 85
1,978 2,044 2,070 2,050 2,080
130 126 119 115 114
38 38 38 39 36
91 90 90 90 90
275 286 289 293 296
113 128 113 113 113
170 114 90 104 126
110 116 123 128 128
598 478 471 465 448
145 149 171 172 174
156 164 167 171 173
278 262 240 253 272
124 128 130 130 133
326 307 277 289 275
81 80 76 69 72
Source: Helgi Library,[31] World Bank, FAOSTAT


Lamb legs grilling over an open fire at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate.
Lamb (in front) being roasted on a roasting spit in Novalja, island of Pag, Croatia.

Meat from sheep features prominently in the cuisines of several Mediterranean cultures including Greece, Croatia, Turkey, North Africa, Jordan, and the Middle East, as well as in the cuisines of Iran and Afghanistan. In Greece, for example, it is an integral component of many meals and of religious feasts such as Easter, like avgolemono and magiritsa. It is also popular in the Basque culture, both in the Basque country of Europe and in the shepherding areas of the Western United States. In the United States, the Navajo have incorporated mutton and lamb into their traditional cuisine since the introduction of sheep by Spanish explorers and settlers in the 17th century, replacing wild turkey and venison and creating a pastoral culture. In Northern Europe, mutton and lamb feature in many traditional dishes, including those of Iceland, Norway and Western Europe, including those of the United Kingdom, particularly in the western and northern uplands, Scotland and Wales. Mutton used to be an important part of Hungarian cuisine due to strong pastoral traditions but began to be increasingly looked down on with the spread of urbanisation.[citation needed]

Mutton is also popular in Australia. Lamb and mutton are very popular in Central Asia and in certain parts of China, where other red meats may be eschewed for religious or economic reasons. Barbecued mutton is also a specialty in some areas of the United States (chiefly Owensboro, Kentucky) and Canada. However, meat from sheep is generally consumed far less in the US than in many European, Central American and Asian cuisines; for example, average per-capita consumption of lamb in the United States is only 400 grams (14 oz) per year.[30]

In Australia, the leg of lamb roast is considered to be the national dish.[32] Commonly served on a Sunday or any other special occasion, it can be done in a kettle BBQ or a conventional oven. Typical preparation involves covering the leg of lamb with butter, pushing rosemary sprigs into incisions cut in the leg, and sprinkling rosemary leaves on top. The lamb is then roasted for two hours at 180 °C (350 °F) and typically served with carrots and potato (also roasted), green vegetables and gravy.

In Indonesia, lamb is popularly served as lamb satay[33] and lamb curry.[34] Both dishes are cooked with various spices from the islands, and served with either rice or lontong. A version of lamb and bamboo shoot curry is the specialty of Minang cuisine, although similar dishes can be found in Thai cuisine.

In Mexico, lamb is the meat of choice for barbacoa, in which the lamb is roasted or steamed wrapped in maguey leaves underground.[35]

In Japan, although lamb is not traditionally consumed in most of the country, on the northern island of Hokkaido and in the northeastern Tohoku regions, a hot-pot dish called jingisukan (i.e. "Genghis Khan") is popular. In that dish, thin-sliced lamb is cooked over a convex skillet alongside various vegetables and mushrooms in front of the diners, then dipped in soy-sauce-based dipping sauces and eaten. It was so named because lamb is popular in Mongolia (see "Sheep meat consumption" above).

Organ meats/offal

Lamb's liver, known as lamb's fry in New Zealand and Australia,[36] is eaten in many countries. It is the most common form of offal eaten in the UK, traditionally used in the family favourite (and pub grub staple) of liver with onions, potentially also with bacon and mashed potatoes. It is a major ingredient, along with the lungs and heart (the pluck), in the traditional Scottish dish of haggis.

Lamb testicles or lamb fries are a delicacy in many parts of the world.

Lamb kidneys are found in many cuisines across Europe and the Middle East, often split into two halves and grilled (on kebabs in the Middle East), or sautéed in a sauce. They are generally the most highly regarded of all kidneys.

Lamb sweetbreads are a delicacy in many cuisines.[37]

Environmental impact

Further information: Environmental impacts of animal agriculture

Mean land use of different foods[38]
Food Types Land Use (m2year per 100g protein)
Lamb and Mutton
Farmed Fish
Sheep have the second highest emissions intensity of any agricultural commodity.

Production of lamb emits more greenhouse gas per gram of protein than other common foods, except for beef.[39]

The amount of agricultural land needed globally would be reduced by almost half if no beef or mutton were eaten.

See also



  1. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edition, June 2003, [ s.v., definition 1b
  2. ^ "Whose goat is it anyway?". Hindustan Times. 11 February 2012. Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  3. ^ Charmaine O'Brien, The Penguin Food Guide to India, section "The Commons", under "Mutton", ISBN 9780143414568
  4. ^ Madhur Jaffrey, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, ISBN 0375712119, p. 49
  5. ^ Janet Groene, Gordon Groene, U.S. Caribbean Guide, 1998, ISBN 1883323878 p. 81
  6. ^ Australian Prime Lamb Industry, 2000 Archived 13 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b "Australia's New Definition of Lamb – What You Need to Know" (4 July 2019). Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  8. ^ Delbridge, Arthur, "The Macquarie Dictionary", 2nd ed., Macquarie Library, North Ryde, 1991
  9. ^ What is the difference between lamb, hogget & mutton? Farmison & Co (British online butcher). Retrieved 27 August 2022.
  10. ^ Lamb versus Hogget Meat: What's the Difference? Border Parks Organics (Australian online butcher). Retrieved 27 August 2022.
  11. ^ Fogarty, Lisa (26 November 2019). "After WW2 mutton fell out of favor in the U.S." NPR. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
  12. ^ "Lamb Sector at a Glance". United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
  13. ^ Merriam-Webster Dictionary, s.v. hogget Archived 7 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine: "chiefly British"
  14. ^ 7 CFR 65.190
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  16. ^ "Lamb from farm to table". United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
  17. ^ "Sheep (new, with animal welfare information) | Infonet Biovision Home". Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  18. ^ "Speleogroup – sg2012".
  19. ^ "Australian Sheep CRC".
  20. ^ Keating, Sheila."Food Detective: Salt Marsh Lamb Archived 13 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine." The Times Online, 28 June 2008.
  21. ^ Bastick, C. H. and Walker, M. G, Extent and impacts of Dryland Salinity in Tasmania. "[1]" Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment, August 2000.
  22. ^ Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hugh. "What Is Mutton – Understanding the History Archived 23 July 2017 at the Wayback Machine." Mutton Renaissance.
  23. ^ "Owensboro Kentucky Mutton Barbecue".
  24. ^ "Lebanese Recipes, Lamb Tongue Salad, oregano, pepper, salt ginger".
  25. ^ Montagné, Prosper (2001). Larousse Gastronomique. Third Edition. Éditions Larousse: France. ISBN 0-600-60235-4
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  31. ^ "HelgiLibrary - Sheep Meat Production".
  32. ^ "Roast lamb rules as Australia's national dish". 2 February 2010.
  33. ^ Owen, Sri (1999). Indonesian Regional Food and Cookery By Sri Owen. Frances Lincoln. ISBN 9780711212732. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  34. ^ Susilowati Primo (21 March 2013). "Lamb curry (gulai kambing)". Food.
  35. ^ "Steamed meat: Igbo translation, definition, meaning, synonyms, pronunciation, transcription, antonyms, examples | HTML Translate | English - Igbo Translator | OpenTran". Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  36. ^ Delbridge, Arthur, The Macquarie Dictionary, 2nd ed., Macquarie Library, North Ryde, 1991
  37. ^ *Sweetbread recipes BBC food
  38. ^ Nemecek, T.; Poore, J. (1 June 2018). "Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers". Science. 360 (6392): 987–992. Bibcode:2018Sci...360..987P. doi:10.1126/science.aaq0216. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 29853680.
  39. ^ "Interactive: What is the climate impact of eating meat and dairy?". url. Retrieved 5 June 2021.
  40. ^ "Much Ado About Mutton".