Skip to Content

Lamb vs. Veal: Understanding the Differences

Lamb vs. Veal: Understanding the Differences

Lamb and veal are both cuts of meat that come from young animals, but some confusion exists in differentiating between the two.  Both are considered prime cuts, and both are generally expensive.  The prices can vary slightly. 

Is veal a baby lamb or a baby cow?

Veal comes from calves, whereas beef comes from older heads of cattle. The meat can be produced from male or female calves, and from any breed.

The majority of veal calves come from the dairy industry and are young males that are not used for breeding purposes. However, some veal calves are intentionally for this purpose. 

Lamb is a cut of meat that comes from the offspring of adult sheep. Both the animal itself and the meat that is derived from it are referred to as lamb. If the animal is slaughtered after the age of 12 months, the meat is referred to as mutton.

Which is better, veal or lamb?

Whether veal or lamb is better depends on multiple factors. For instance, in terms of environmental impact, lamb is better than veal, but there are other considerations as well, many of which depend on the individual. 

There are also long-standing ethical issues surrounding the production of veal, in particular, but animal rights groups also protest lamb processing and characterize both as cruel.

It can be surmised that each type of meat has both good qualities and undesirable ones, but whether one is better than the other is subjective. 

Environmental impact

The production of veal is an unsustainable practice that is destructive to land. Its solid waste runoff is known to harm healthy soil and freshwater. Forests are destroyed to provide enough land to produce enough feed for beef, and the cycles that this creates result in dead zones in the oceans, extinction of certain animal species, the destruction of important animal habitats, and water pollution.

Lamb, on the other hand, runs a close second. The production of lamb as meat generates a higher protein to greenhouse gas ratio than any other animal except beef.

Furthermore, the production of both meat from both sheep and cows results in twice the land usage than would be required if neither were produced for human consumption. Both veal and lamb are fairly expensive compared other meats.

Nutritional value

In terms of nutritional value, lamb outweighs veal in this area, because it is higher in more of the important nutrients needed by the human body. Lamb has more than 9 times the Vitamin B12 and nearly 4 times the Vitamin K than veal.

It also has a higher protein content and twice as much iron. Veal has higher cholesterol but is lower than lamb in overall fat and, more importantly, saturated fat. It also has 3 times the vitamin B6 as lamb, more phosphorus, and a greater amount of vitamin B5.

What is the difference between lamb and veal in terms of taste?

Determining whether veal or lamb tastes better is a matter of personal preference. Both veal and lamb are characterized as being tender, delicate cuts of meat.

Grilled Lamb sirloin fillet meat on wooden board with herbs, mutton loin steak.

However, lamb is noted for having a stronger flavor and a more tender texture than veal, and while the veal is said to have a more delicate flavor, the texture is tougher than that of lamb.

The breed, cut and conditions in which the animals have been raised partially help to determine the variety of each animal’s offerings.  The conditions under which the animal’s mothers were raised can also contribute.

This also goes far in the strength and variety of its flavors, nutritional composition, and texture of the meat.

The flavor of veal can vary, depending upon whether or not the calves were formula-fed, milk-fed, or non-formula-fed. It also matters whether or not they were raised in a pasture, cage-free or both.

Gourmet Veal Medallions

Veal calves are slaughtered between the ages of around three hours and up to one month old and are noted for their particularly tender, mild-flavored meat.

A key difference between lamb and veal is that the flavor of lamb is largely determined by a type of fatty acid that veal calves do not possess. This gives the meat its characteristic gamey flavor. The flavor of lamb also relies on the animal’s diet.

Different types of grasses, for instance, yield differences in flavor. Lambs that are raised in America tend to be fed grain for the last month of their lives, while lambs in other countries, such as Australia, are fed grass for the duration of their lives.

The lambs that are fed grain do not produce the same quantities of fatty acids that those lambs that are fed on grass alone do. Therefore, their meat is milder and less distinctive in flavor.

A way that the diner can intentionally reduce the stronger flavor of lamb is to cut away the fat. A leg of lamb, for instance, can be butterflied to expose small pockets of fat that can be trimmed as a matter of preference.

Cuts of veal compared to cuts of lamb

Cuts of veal consist of the chuck or shoulder, the sirloin or hip, the rib, the shank or breast, the short plate, and the round or the flake.

Conversely, lamb cuts are called the rack or rib of lamb, the square-cut shoulder, the leg, the loin, the breast, shanks, neck, and flank.

Some recipes call for specific cuts of meat, but in many cases, it is perfectly acceptable to substitute lamb meat for veal. Many cuts of beef that are usually tough are often valued from veal since they have the same flavor, but are more tender, such as in Country Fried Steak.

However, for the purist, the substitution is not considered equal. The flavor of lamb is stronger than that of veal and can change the intended composition of the dish.

Recommended methods of cooking veal and lamb

A major Chicago meat purveyor recommends braising veal over very low heat. Alternatively, grilling, stewing, broiling, stir-frying, roasting, and sauteing veal are good ways to make the most of the meat.

For cooking lamb, world-renowned chef, Gordon Ramsey, recommends cooking lamb by lightly searing it initially before basting it with herb-infused garlic butter. This is followed by an oven finish in which the meat is cooked until it is heated through, but it should also be pink and moist in the middle.

He also recommends cooking a rack of lamb by applying mustard and herb-infused paste to the surface before roasting it in the oven. Both lamb and veal are versatile and are suitable for a wide range of recipes and cooking methods.