Is duck red meat?

The short answer to the question ‘is duck red meat?’ is no. Duck is classified as white meat by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Duck meat can look dark and fleshy due to the myoglobin count and can be counted as red in culinary terms, e.g. how to cook it and what to serve with it. This causes the confusion and makes people ask is duck red meat?

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Is duck red meat or white?

Even when fully cooked, duck meat is darker than chicken or turkey. This is because ducks are game birds that fly more than their poultry counterparts. The exercising of the breast muscles uses oxygen which is delivered by red blood cells and stored in myoglobin, giving the meat a darker color. This coloration is what makes people ask the question is duck red meat or white meat? 

Duck meat should be considered as poultry in terms of preparation. Duck meat has the same risk of salmonella as chicken and turkey. It should not be prepared on the same surface as other raw ingredients. Implements, like knives or spoons must not be used for raw duck and other raw ingredients that will be served with it, e.g. salad (Food Safety and Inspection Service). 

Duck meat needs to be cooked thoroughly, to the same recommended temperature as chicken (165°F / 74°C). Some diners prefer their duck meat pink, like red meat, but the internal temperature must meet the minimum requirement. For safety reasons, home cooks might prefer to cook their duck for longer. 

White meats are usually served with white wines, whereas duck is often served with pinot noir – a red wine. This is another reason consumers might think that duck is a red meat. The pairing works because duck is a fatty meat and needs acidity to cut through the fat. Duck also goes well with fruits like plum and cherries so a fruity red wine is perfect (The Guardian).

So, we classify duck as a white meat and prepare and cook it like other white meats (poultry), but sometimes serve it pink and eat it with red wine, like red meat. Next, let’s look at whether duck is healthy and sustainable. 

Is duck meat healthy?

Duck meat is an excellent source of protein, iron and omega-3 fat. 75 grams of eider duck meat supplies more than 25% of RDA (recommended daily allowance) for young adults. It’s a good source of omega-6 fats and a fair source of magnesium (Canadian Government, Health & Social Services). 

Food values for a 100g of young Pekin duckling meat cooked without skin and broiled 

  • Energy     140kcal 
  • Protein     27.6g
  • Fat     2.5g
  • Carbohydrates   0g
  • Fatty acids, total monounsaturated 0.871g
  • Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated 0.378g
  • Sodium, Na    0.105g 
  • Cholesterol    0.143g

Skinless duck meat is protein rich, low in fat and salt, and low cholesterol. In addition, it is a source of calcium, iron, niacin, selenium, and vitamin C (Agricultural Research Service, FoodData Central). 

Having said this, duck is still meat and meat production and consumption raises concerns for both health and the environment. 

Should we eat less meat?

Eating less meat is good for your health and the environment. The European Heart Journal (Volume 42, Issue 21, 2021) reported the results of some research in the UK that found that meat & poultry eaters had more risk of cardiovascular disease than pescatarians or vegetarians. There was no difference between red and white meat. This indicates that eating less meat is good for our health, regardless of the type. 

What about sustainability? The emissions from livestock rearing are vast, an estimated 7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2 equivalent per year. That’s around 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Beef is the biggest contributor at 5,024 mmt, with chickens contributing 790 mmt and ducks 82 mmt (FAO, GLEAM). By comparison, global Co2 emissions from passenger vehicles was 0.0032 Gigatonnes at its peak in 2019, prior to the pandemic (Statista).

According to the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, an average US diet outputs 5kg of Co2 per person per day. By cutting that in half and replacing all animal based foods, we could achieve a reduction to 3.3kg of Co2 per person per day. The projections put the reduction in Co2 at 224 million metric tonnes. That would be the same as removing emissions from 47.5 million cars – more cars than are in the entire UK (Statista). If we are interested in green living, we have to think about reducing our meat intake.

Can ducks be farmed sustainably?

Ducks in the US are raised indoors to protect them and facilitate the collection of manure for fertilizer. They are fed corn and soy, mostly without any animal byproducts. No antibiotics or hormones are allowed in the farming of ducks. Only inspected and USDA Grade A ducks are sold in supermarkets (Food Safety & Inspection Service). 

The only USDA approved welfare food certification label is the Animal Welfare Approved by AGW (A Greener World). The labels are dark green, showing that the farmer has met the highest welfare standards for their animals. The other labels are traffic light color coded, with dark green, light green, amber (fair) and red (avoid) gradings. 

Commercial meat ducks are farmed indoors and outdoors in the UK, mostly indoors. The conditions of these farms are questionable, with limited space and recreational water. Recreational water allows ducks to swim and bathe, which is a natural activity for ducks. Access to water for recreation is not required by law in the UK (RSPCA). 

Welfare codes that recommend space allowance and safety for birds are not law in the UK (Defra). Ducks are protected under the general Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007. There is also a Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Ducks that falls under the Animal Welfare Act. 

Look for the RSPCA Assured labels on products in supermarkets and in restaurants across the UK. Their assurances are for space to move (no cages, ever), stimulation, humane slaughter, responsible antibiotic use and full traceability. 

It is possible to commercially farm in a sustainable way. Pipers Farm in the UK sells what they call ‘properly free range duck’ and delivers it across the UK. They are a group of 40 family farms that champion their sustainable message. They say “Our ducks live a properly free-range life, roaming amongst lush pasture, eating a natural diet of forage and whole grains.” 

If growing your own is your thing. Mike Dickson aka The Fit Farmer raises his own ducks on his homestead run with his wife Lacey. His YouTube channel is full of information on how to keep ducks clean, process duck meat for eating and even quack to get them to follow you home to the coop. 

Is duck red meat or white meat?

The answer to the question ‘is duck red meat?’ is no. Although duck might look dark, the US Department of Agriculture classify duck meat as white meat. It contains myoglobins that hold oxygen and give it the distinctive red color. This makes people wonder ask is duck meat red?

For safety, cook duck like white meat and the usual poultry preparation rules apply. Serving duck with red wine, which is more typical of red meats, is fine. Dishing it up slightly pink is ok, as long as the meat reaches the minimum internal temperature. 

Skinless duck meat is a healthy, high protein, low fat and low cholesterol meat. Eating too much meat is not healthy for our heart, regardless of whether it is red or white meat. Even if ducks produce less greenhouse gas than red meats, they still contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Farming ducks can be ethical.  Always buy your duck from a reputable supplier and look for welfare assurance labels.