It is uncertain whether lamb formed part of the Easter meal on Maundy Thursday about 2000 years ago. However, we do know that Easter is originally a Jewish holiday.

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Jews commemorate the exodus from Egypt with an Easter meal where lamb was one of the ingredients. In the Christian tradition, the main backdrop for our current Easter meal is Jesus’ last supper with his disciples on the Thursday before Easter.

In Norway, roast lamb plays the central role on many Easter dinner tables – but very few eat mutton. Why is that the case? Many are negatively inclined towards mutton, but Nofima has carried out consumer tests which show that few can actually taste any difference in practice.

– “People have this belief that they only like lamb, but our tests show that most people enjoy the taste of mutton just as much as lamb”, says Kristine Svartebekk Myhrer, organoleptic researcher at Nofima.

“Lean, mild and tender” versus “mild, juicy and tender”

90 consumers participated in the tests. They each tasted three samples of meat from leg of lamb (a four-month old lamb) and three samples of meat from leg of mutton (a four-year old sheep), and were subsequently asked to describe the smell and taste of the meat.

Was it intense, tart, rancid, stale or rank, or did it taste of metal, sheep, wet wool or liver? And was the meat tough, tender, juicy, fatty or grainy?
The researcher were looking to gain insights on the vocabulary consumers used to describe the flavours of the meat, and the distribution between positive and negative terms.

– “The consumers were asked to rate the samples on a scale from 1–9, and then choose the words they would use to describe the taste”, Kristine explains.

They were given a total of 36 descriptive words to choose from.

The terms “lean”, “mild” and “tender” were used most often to describe the lamb meat,

while “mild”, “juicy” and “tender” were used to describe the mutton samples.

The experts have spoken

It is only by studying the human senses that we can understand how the food is perceived by the consumer. The professional tasters of Nofima’s organoleptic panel have been selected on the basis of their superior sense of smell and taste. They are not concerned with whether they like what they are tasting, but rather with giving objective descriptions of the food – its taste and smell, texture and consistency as well as how it looks.

Their analysis showed that leg of lamb has a mild flavour which is more tart, and the meat is also somewhat more tender. Roast mutton has a stronger intensity overall in terms of fragrance and flavour. However, they detected no flavours resembling wool, which is a notion often associated with mutton.

– “The leg of mutton is naturally heavier than leg of lamb, and has a correspondingly higher amount of meat on it. If you prefer meat with a stronger flavour resembling wild game meat, you should go for a roast of an older specimen. Rise above the bad reputation associated with mutton, and enjoy a more flavourful dish for this year’s Easter meal”, says Kristine.

Facts about the research

Nortura headed the research project Tasty products from mutton and lamb, with Nofima as their research partner. The purpose of the study was to test the market potential for mutton. The goal was to survey possibilities for better exploitation of raw materials and increased added value. The research project is funded by the Research Council of Norway and Nortura. The main conclusion is that the use of mutton has great potential.

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Research areas

Sensory sciences