by, S. Steve Dounis
History of Lamb
Lamb is the oldest domesticated meat species. For thousands of years man has raised sheep for meat to eat, wool for clothing, skin for parchment, as well as milk for butter and cheese. Sheep were raised by humans 9,000 years ago in the Middle East, and all along the Mediterranean. Sheep made it to North America with the Spanish conqueror of Mexico, Hernando Cortes, in 1519. Over 2,000 years ago, the Greeks and Romans brought sheep to England. Later, sheep were brought to the United States in the early 1800s. From Asia, to Europe, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and around the world, lamb has been an important and versatile staple. From Biblical times, lamb is considered to be blessed.
Definition of Lamb
Lamb is meat from sheep less than 1 year old. Today, most of the lamb is from 6 to 8 months old. So- called “Spring lamb” means that the lamb was harvested between March and October. The term comes from times past when lambs born in harsh winter weather hardly survived until the following spring. Today the sheep are provided shelter from wind and snow.
It has been estimated that there are more than 100,000 sheep farms in the United States. A great number of these farms are completely natural, that is, the sheep are naturally grass fed in pastures with free access to well and spring water. The sheep are never given antibiotics, growth stimulants, steroids, or any other chemical additives. They are not grain fed and never exposed to feedlot conditions. Some routine maintenance shots may be given the sheep for tetanus, overeating disease, and lamb hood disease. By raising the sheep outdoors on pasture, their manure is spread over a wide area of land, making it a welcome source of organic fertilizer, and not a “waste management problem” as is the case with animals quartered in feedlots.
What is a feedlot? A type of animal feeding operation consisting of a confined pen or enclosure, which is used in factory farming for finishing livestock, notably beef cattle, but also swine, horses, sheep, turkeys, chickens or ducks, prior to slaughter. Prior to entering a feedlot, sheep spend most of their life grazing on pastureland. Once they reach an entry-level weight and age, they are transferred to a feedlot to be fed a “specialized diet” and then from there, after reaching their finished weight, they are transported to a slaughterhouse.
The “specialized diet” usually consists of high grains such as corn, barley, milo (a sorghum), and/or wheat. However, ruminants such as sheep are designed to eat fibrous grasses, plants, and shrubs and not starchy, low-fiber grain. Switching from pasture greens to grains causes the sheep to become afflicted with a number of disorders. This could lower the nutritional value of the meat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has okayed Zeronal, a synthetic hormone used to promote efficient growth in feedlot lambs. The hormone is implanted on the lamb’s ear and is time released for about 30 days. A withholding period of 40 days is required before slaughter.
Antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat disease in lambs. A recommended withholding period is required from the time antibiotics are administered until it is legal to slaughter the animal. This is so residues can exit the animal’s system.
This is why you need to buy the natural raised lamb. Of course the USDA does not really differentiate between natural and feedlot raised animals. The USDA states:
- “All fresh meat qualifies as ‘natural’. Products labeled ‘natural’ cannot contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient: and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed (ground, for example). All products claiming to be natural should be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term ‘natural’”.
The Natural Lamb Co-op
Several thousand ranchers and farmers all across the U.S. and Canada, since the late 1990′s, have stopped sending their animals to feedlots.
In late 2006, Nancy Penley of Loveland, Colorado, organized the Natural Lamb Co-op, a group of natural lamb producers interested in providing the public with delicious, all-natural lamb. The sheep are raised entirely on pasture land and never implanted with hormones or given feed growth promoting additives, nor fed animal by-products.
The members of the Natural Lamb Co-op believe that Americans deserve a healthy, nutritious, and tasty diet more in keeping with our original diet and our physiology.
Lamb is not marbled (fat in the meat) as is beef. Over half of the fat in lamb is unsaturated. Only 36% of the fat in lamb is saturated. Most of the unsaturated fat is monounsaturated, commonly found in a healthy Mediterranean-type diet.
Lamb contains the fat that is good for you, consumed directly as part of the essential omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA), a liquid unsaturated acid. Lamb is one of the richest sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), part of the omega-6, possessing unique and potent antioxidant activity . CLA cannot be manufactured in the human body. Most of the lamb’s fat is on the outside edges and is easily trimmed. Only 175 calories, on average, in a 3 ounce serving. This is about 7% of the average caloric intake recommended for a 23-to-50 year old man.
Lamb is an excellent natural source of high quality protein. The protein in lamb is nutritionally complete, with all 8 essential amino acids in the proper ratio. A three ounce serving provides 43% of an adult male’s Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein.
As a source of easily absorbed iron, an average portion of lamb provides 20% of the RDA intake for men and 12% for women. Iron is vital in the formation of red blood cells. Lamb provides 45% of the daily requirement of zinc, essential for growth, healing and a healthy immune system.
Lamb is a great source of B vitamins, essential for metabolic reactions in the body. Lamb provides over 100% of the RDA of B12, (found solely in animal meat), for normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. A good source also of thiamine (B1), essential to normal metabolism and nerve function.
Trace mineral elements such as copper, manganese and selenium are also found in lamb.
Retail Cuts of Fresh Lamb
A lamb weighs about 120 pounds and yields approximately 60 to 72 pounds of retail lamb cuts, which include bone and fat. There are five basic retail lamb cuts. These are: lamb shoulder, rack of lamb, lamb loin, lamb shank/lamb breast, and leg of lamb. These may be further broken down in the super markets as loin chops, shoulder roast, shoulder chops, leg of lamb butt-end, leg shank, etc., as well as ground lamb. The “rack” is the unsplit rib of the carcass, which includes ribs 6 through 12, and is usually split to make two lamb rib roasts.
1. “Lamb does not taste good”. Wrong. Lean lamb has a delicate, mild, almost sweet flavor.
2. “Lamb is expensive”. Not so. Based on a 3-ounce lean portion, lamb is comparable in price to the finer cuts of beef and pork and without the higher levels of cholesterol. Always consider the cost per person.
3. “Lamb is hard to prepare”. Lamb is the easiest to prepare. It can be broiled, grilled, roasted as any other cut of meat. Use your favorite spices for an enjoyable, tender and delicious meal.
4. “Lamb is only for special occasions”. It is great for special occasions, however, you can prepare it anytime as a change of pace from beef, pork, or chicken.
In the U.S., per capita consumption of lamb is very low, less that one pound per person. In New Zealand, for example, consumption is 57 pounds per person. Many immigrants to the U.S., however, today, come from many areas of the world where lamb is commonly consumed. As a result, the U.S. continues to import lamb to meet consumer demand.
Add lamb to your weekly menu and enjoy an excellent source of protein and essential fats (the “good” fats). Out of all the meats, lamb is the easiest to digest because of it’s low saturated fat content. Full of essential fatty acids, B vitamins, iron, zinc, and selenium, lamb is the healthy alternative to beef, pork, or chicken. Use the natural lamb if you can find it. Even if you can only get feed-lot raised lamb it is still healthier than any of the other meats.
My Favorite Seasonings for Lamb
Whether I am broiling, roasting, or grilling lamb these are my favorite ways of seasoning. First, I squeeze lemon juice all over the meat (lemon is a flavor enhancer and germ killer), next I sprinkle sea salt and pepper, then sprinkle oregano, and finally, drizzle olive oil all over the meat (olive oil, omega-9, is also a flavor enhancer and protects the meat from burning). Lastly, I rub it all in and over the meat. You will be amazed at how this simple “rub” flavors the lamb. When cooking, most of the fat is melted off. The lamb thus shrinks a little. For example, after cooking bone-in lamb leg or roast, one pound of raw weight will yield 8 to 9 ounces of edible meat. Ground lamb or boneless cuts will yield about 10.5 ounces of edible meat.
My Favorite Recipe for Ground Lamb
Finely chop one small onion and finely chop a small clump of parsley. In a heated frying pan (medium high) add a tablespoon of olive oil. Fry the chopped onions with a pinch of sea salt and a pinch of pepper. Stir onions thoroughly into olive oil and seasoning. After a few minutes add the chopped parsley and stir in good. Do not burn onions. Shut off heat when onions become translucent and parsley limps.
In a large bowl place one pound of ground lamb. Using a wooden spatula, break up the meat to loosen it up. Afterwords, squeeze lemon over all the meat. Then add sea salt, pepper, oregano, and drizzle olive oil all over the seasoned meat. Using the spatula, incorporate the seasonings and oil into the meat. Next, add the onions and parsley mix to the meat mix. Stir in and incorporate all ingredients. Finally, using your hands (bare, or with plastic throw-away gloves) roll everything into a ball. Place ball on a china plate. spread out ball into a square. Break off the four corners into smaller balls. Make 4 kefte (meatball) burgers. You can fry them or broil them. Fry in teaspoon of olive oil and teaspoon of organic salt-free butter. If broiling, sprinkle olive oil on to broiler pan and add water in bottom of pan.
You can use your own recipe seasonings to suit your own good taste. Be creative. Bon appetit.