Would Dinosaur Taste Like Chicken?

Jan 16, 2012 11:31 am

Exploring theories about prehistoric dinner

photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dystopos/">dystopos</a>
photo: dystopos
Paleontology of the Plate: Scientists say, unscientifically, that dinosaur might taste like chicken.
 

NBC ran Friends for 10 seasons, totaling 236 episodes. Two of the main characters are siblings; one a chef and the other a paleontologist. Not once in the roughly 5,192 minutes of situational comedy did the two ever have a discussion about what dinosaur meat would taste like. This baffles me – both the lack of back-and-forth on the subject and the subject matter itself.

Obviously, no one can be sure what a nice T-Rex tenderloin tastes like. However Carl Mehling, a Senior Scientific Assistant at the American Museum of Natural History, has some insight. “I would’ve probably just reflexively said that they taste like chicken, and certainly not for laughs —  because that line is so damned hackneyed — but because it likely was true.”

Jack Conrad, an Assistant Professor of Anatomy at New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, offers a safer theory. “There is a difference in flavor between [white meat and dark meat]," he says. "Turkey and chicken…two closely related species that eat similar things, have similar lifestyles, and taste quite different. Also, each example of each species will vary in taste based on what it has been fed or caught for itself to eat.”

Mehling may have been joking about dinosaurs tasting like chicken. Yet ostrich, an avian dinosaur of a sort, has a flavor profile that's reminiscent of beef. “This may be partly related to the fact that cows and ostriches both have dark-meat steaks, both animals spend a lot of time walking/foraging, and both tend to eat greenery,” Conrad explains.

For his part, Conrad points out that even different parts of one animal have distinctive flavors, so it's not really possible to know how a dinosaur would taste. Consider the cow or the pig, for example. “Sirloin, ribs, roast, all taste different," he says. "Pork ribs, bacon, hog jowl, ham, all taste different.”

Still, a dinosaur steakhouse could have made a pretty good go of it serving one species at a time. If a 1,150-pound steer yields about 568 pounds of usable meat, that means a 40,000-pound Apatosaurus could provide 22,000 pounds, with a lot of it coming from the enormous tail.

Conrad points out, “Modern reptiles of all kinds tend to store fat in the rump, near the base of the tail. So if you wanted a nicely marbled Tyrannosaurus steak, you might [start there].”

You can tell Conrad is a bit of a foodie. “I suspect a Triceratops neck would have been really rich meat... You'd probably get the nice, rich, slow-twitch fibers (from static head posture) along with some zing from some fast-twitch fibers (from throwing the head, and those horns!) for added flavor.”

Until a real life Jurassic Park gets up and running, snack bars far and wide will continue to serve greasy burgers and onion rings. We'll just have to imagine how Anthony Bourdain would critique a braised Stagosaurus or how Adam Richman would attack an entire Velociraptor on Man vs. Food.

The experts aren’t choosey on which specific dinosaur they’d care to sample. Mehling admits, “I’d take what I was offered. But I guess I’d most like to try a mega-sauropod just to have sampled such an immense animal. You could probably remove a steak from one and not even convince it that anything more than a mosquito bite had occurred.”

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