You Say “Gamey” Like It’s a Bad Thing

"I'm always a little annoyed when I read lines like 'lamb was great; not at all gamey' or 'yuck, the goat curry had a gamey taste' in restaurant reviews," says Humbucker. "Why has gamey become a pejorative term? As someone who is fond of powerful and pungent flavors, gamey taste is something I actively seek out. Wouldn't people who don't like strong-tasting meat be better off just avoiding lamb, duck legs, mutton, etc., instead of eating it and hoping that it doesn't display too much of its intrinsic flavor?"

"Gamey is a bad word: I propose we not use the word 'gamey' or 'gamy,'" says intrepidtech. The problem is that the word is confusingly used to refer to both meat with a particular flavor characteristic and also to tainted meat. "When we talk about food, especially food that tastes like wild game, we should do our readers, or listeners, a favor and not use "gamey" without qualifying it; otherwise, it confuses people," says intrepidtech. So for clarity, one could refer to meat as having "a pleasant, gamey flavor," suggests tarteaucitron—the way people might refer to cheese as having a "pleasant, nutty flavor."

One problem is that our culture has lost direct experience with the referent of the word. "It's generally been my personal experience that many foodies have never eaten anything wilder than a domesticated lamb, tapas from the tin, or a serving of mackerel nigiri from the sushi bar," says deet13. "I was fortunate to come from a family of experienced hunters and butchers and it wasn't until I was nearly 30 years old that I tasted truly gamey venison," says cleobeach. "It was passed on to us from a friend of the family and I simply could not eat it. The meat was not spoiled, it just had a very distinct and unpleasant (to me) flavor—gamey."

"In wild mammalian game, two things can affect a strong 'gamy' flavor," says Passadumkeg. "If the animal was in flight and the adrenalin has kicked in, it will affect the flavor, strongly. How the animal is butchered after killing also affects flavor. If the carcass is not cooled down quickly, the flavor gets strong as well. In many mammals, there are glands in the thigh region that if not quickly removed also strongly flavor the meat."

Discuss: Is 'gamey' really such a bad thing?