December 28, 2012 1:20 pm
There is surely no steak rarer than that which has been cut from a creature that has not walked this Earth in the past 65 million years.
Of the food-lovers among us, there is a certain subset of people whose fondness for unique flavors drive them to try to consume the most exotic of meats. And, though we’ll probably never know for sure, some people can’t help but wonder what the meat of a dinosaur would taste like. In Slate a few years back, Brian Palmer sought to answer this question, determining that Tyrannosaurus rex likely tasted not like chicken, but “more like hawk.”
Countless factors determine the flavor of meat, including the composition of an animal’s muscles, its eating habits, and its hormones. Based on the evolutionary tree, we might speculate that T. rex tasted more like poultry than, say, beef or pork. Its flavor would likely have been closer to that of a carnivorous bird—perhaps a hawk—than a chicken. What does a hawk taste like? It’s probably not far off from the dark meat of a turkey but would be more pungent because of its all-meat diet.
In Popular Science, however, Erin Berger extends this question, asking not just “what would dinosaur taste like,” but ‘which dinosaur would be best?’
Again, the determination comes down to a few basics of biology: a meat’s taste is affected by its purpose (tastier red meat for endurance muscles, bland white meat for fast, twitchy ones) and by what the animal eats. Animals that eat other animals have a distinctively “gamey” taste, says Berger, one that does not bode well with many people’s palates.
Berger says that our best bet for a delectable dinosaur would come in the form of a herbivorous one that has a tendency to move persistently, rather than with swift bursts of motion. We’re looking for, essentially, the dinosaur equivalent of a cow. Berger’s most likely candidate? Ornithomimosauria.
Ornithomimosaurs were a group of ostrich-like dinosaurs that were part of the suborder Theropoda from which modern birds evolved. They were close enough to birds that they likely had feathers and were warm-blooded, but they were very active animals with large hind legs for prolonged periods of running, so their muscles would probably have been mainly slow-twitch, less like modern birds. Though most theropods were carnivorous, ornithomimids were unique in that they had no teeth, a fact that has led most to believe they ate mostly plant matter.
“About 80 percent of the ornithomimids were hindquarters, and they were really well-suited for running,” Varricchio says. “I’ve also done a little work on their bone histology and it’s safe to say they’re relatively fast-growing. I think it would be a lean, slightly wild-tasting red meat.”
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