Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Daniel. Daniel Wonders, “Why is chicken so yummy?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Daniel!
If you're like many kids, your meal of choice might consist of chicken in the form of nuggets, fingers, strips, or tenders. Who could blame you? Dipped in honey mustard or barbecue sauce, chicken is a tasty treat that tempts the taste buds.
Fans of chicken also usually enjoy good old-fashioned fried chicken. Fried in a cast iron skillet and served with mashed potatoes and gravy…mmm…what time is lunch?
If you've ever requested a piece of fried chicken at a buffet restaurant or a church potluck, you may have been asked whether you prefer white meat or dark meat. This can be confusing for many kids. Isn't all chicken meat white?
If you compare different pieces of fried chicken, you'll notice that there is a slight difference in coloration between some pieces. White meat chicken is very white and dark meat chicken is…well…darker! What's going on here?
The differences in color between white meat and dark meat reflect the fact that different cuts of chicken (or turkey!) meat come from different types of muscle. Dark meat cuts, such as the thighs and drumsticks, come from frequently-used muscles needed for walking and standing.
These muscles use more oxygen and contain more fat and iron. The iron in the muscles is located in a protein called myoglobin. The myoglobin gives dark meat its darker color.
On the other hand, white meat cuts, such as the breast, breast tenders, and wings, come from muscles that are used less frequently for only short bursts of activity. These muscles primarily use a carbohydrate called glycogen for energy, and they don't need as much oxygen. Since there's less iron and myoglobin in these muscles, white meat is whiter.
Experts note that there are also slight differences between white meat and dark meat in nutritional value. While all chicken contains valuable protein, niacin, biotin, and vitamins B6 and B12, dark meat tends to be slightly higher in calories due to the fact that it contains more fat.
Before you choose boneless, skinless chicken breast to save calories and fat, however, you should also know that the extra fat in dark meat also gives it a stronger flavor and makes it juicier. If you do choose white meat, you may want to add flavor and moisture by marinating it before cooking it.