Goat (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
GOAT. Goats are one of the earliest domesticated animals, providing humankind with milk, meat, hides, and fiber. They include several species of small, cloven-hoofed ruminants constituting the genus Capra. Similar to other ruminants, including cows and sheep, goats process plant roughage through a fermentation process within their compartmentalized stomachs, and they chew regurgitated, partially digested food known as cud. Unlike other ruminants, goats are agile browsers, preferring to reach upwards for foods such as the leaves, fruit, and bark of small trees rather than grazing on grasses. When the desired foods are unavailable, however, goats will consume any plant material accessible. It is this foraging ability and flexibility of diet that has secured the importance of goats as a food source in the world's subsistence economies.
Wild ancestors of modern goats, known as Persian or Bezoar goats (Capra aegagrus) once roamed from South Asia to Crete. It is believed human goatherding began 10,000 years ago in the Zagros highlands of western Iran, as evidenced through selective slaughter of young males. DNA studies support that domestication began at that time due to the rapid growth of the goat population. Domesticated goats (Capra hircus) demonstrate remarkable genetic uniformity worldwide. Genetic analysis suggests that goats were a commonly traded in ancient times, which dispersed the population to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Later, they provided a convenient source of milk and meat aboard the ships of European explorers, who introduced goats to the New World.
Selective breeding of goats has resulted in animals smaller than their ancestors, and with greater diversity of coat length, texture, and color. Noses are straight or convex; ears vary from negligible external organs to pendulous and droopy. Both males (bucks) and females (does) are horned. Hornless (polled) animals have been bred, though the recessive polled trait is associated with infertility. (Goat horns are frequently removed after they bud to prevent accidents.) One characteristic that has not changed with domestication is goat intelligence, judged superior to that of dogs. Numerous breeds have been developed for meat, milk, and fiber (including angora for mohair, and cashmere), in addition to being bred for hardiness and suitability to specific geographic regions.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that in 2001 close to 693 million goats were kept worldwide, with 95 percent of all stock found in developing countries. This compares to 1.3 billion cattle and 1 billion sheep. Regionally, South Asia has the most goats, with 205 million head, followed by East and Southeast Asia, due largely to the 157 million in China. Other nations with significant goat populations (in descending order) are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, and Somalia.
Official statistics on goat meat and milk greatly underestimate production since many goats are raised for personal family use. Primarily nations with large numbers of animals accounted for the most meat: over one-third of the global supply in 2001 came from China. Other significant producers include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sudan, and Iran. Commercial milk production did not correlate so closely with number of head, however, reflecting cultural differences in dairy food use. In 2001, major producers were India, Bangladesh, and Sudan, followed by Pakistan, Somalia, Spain, Russia, France, and Greece.
Meat. Goat meat has a taste similar to mutton, with a slightly gamy flavor. It is lower in fat than either beef or mutton (due to a fat layer exterior to the muscle rather than marbled through it), and can be drier. The United States Department of Agriculture describes quality goat meat as firm and finely grained. The color can vary between females and males, from light pink to bright red. Kids, defined as under one year old, are often slaughtered at three to five months of age. Their meat is less flavorful and juicy, but more tender than the meat of older goats.
Goat meat is an important protein source in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It is consumed regularly in some parts of Latin America, such as the Caribbean, Mexico, and Brazil, and is regionally popular in China, Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. The entire goat is usually consumed. An eviscerated carcass is typically cut, flesh and bone, into cubes for stewing, used in dishes such as curried goat and garlic-flavored caldereta, a Spanish specialty found also in Latin America and the Philippines. Roasted goat is popular worldwide, often considered a special-occasion food. In Saudi Arabia, the cavity is stuffed with rice, fruits, and nuts. Jerked goat leg, heavily seasoned before cooking over allspice wood, is a Jamaican specialty.
Organ meats are eaten, too. Goat's head soup is prepared in most regions where the meat is consumed. The dish is known as isiewu in Nigeria; the eyes are considered a delicacy. In Morocco, kidneys, liver, heart, lung, and pancreas are added to the meat to make goat tagine. In Kyrgyzstan, the testicles are roasted separately over the fire for consumption by men, and washed down with vodka. In the Philippines, paklay is an Ilocano specialty that combines goat intestines with sour fruits, such as unripe pineapple.
There are few taboos regarding goat meat, and it is accepted by all major religions that permit eating meat. Jewish consumption is often dependent on kosher processing, and for Muslims it must be slaughtered according to halal rules. In some regions goats, especially kids, are associated with certain religious holidays, particularly Passover, Easter, and Ramadan. Goat meat is usually classified as a hot or yang food in the Chinese philosophical system of yin/yang, and preferentially consumed during the winter months.
Goat meat is not well-accepted by a majority of Americans due to negative associations with garbageeating and the unpleasant odor of the buck during rut. Exceptions are found among ethnic populations and in the Southwest, where Spanish-Mexican influences have popularized barbequed or pit-roasted cabrito (suckling kid). Enterprising goat ranchers in the United States market goat jerky and sausages as cabrito, or as the more French-sounding chevon.
Dairy Foods. Goat's milk is traditionally consumed fresh, fermented as yogurt, and processed into butter and cheese. While goat's milk is a significant protein food in areas where grazing land is limited, goats lactate seasonally and produce lower quantities of milk than do cows, reducing availability. Fresh milk is a common beverage in South Asia, parts of the Middle East, and Greece and is an occasional dietary addition in other goat-raising nations (with the exception of China and Korea). In Europe, evaporated, canned, and powdered goat's milk products are popular. Cow's milk desserts are occasionally made from goat's milk as well, such as ice cream or the Latin American caramelized milk sweet known as dulce de leche or cajeta.
Goat's milk cheeses are favored in the Middle East, and in parts of Europe and Latin America. They are processed and classified similarly to cheeses prepared from other milks. Soft and semisoft unripened (unaged) cheeses predominate, often home-made. Most are delicate, spreadable, snowy white in color, with a light, tart flavor. Many are marketed under the generic term
Meat. Goat meat is nutritionally notable for combining the advantages of red meat with those of white meat or poultry. Goat meat provides similar amounts of protein when compared to the composite nutritional value for beef, but is 80 percent lower in total fat, most of which is unsaturated. Goat meat is also lower in fat than pork, lamb, and skinless chicken breasts. Iron content in goat meat is 70 percent higher than in beef and 200 percent higher than chicken. Cholesterol levels are similar to beef, pork, and lamb, however.
Milk. Goat's milk is a vitamin-and mineral-rich protein food (see Table 1), shown to be a suitable substitute for cow's milk in feeding malnourished children. Yet, it is the differences in the fat, protein, and carbohydrate composition of goat's milk that account for its reputation as a healthy food. The fat contains a high proportion of small-and medium-chain fatty acids, which increases absorbability and contributes to the tangy flavor. It is lower in casein proteins than is cow's milk, resulting in much smaller curd (protein clump) formation in the stomach, another factor in digestibility. Goat's milk is naturally homogenized because it also lacks the protein agglutinin, so the fat stays dispersed in the milk and does not form cream at the top. Lactose, a sugar found in all milks, is slightly lower in goat's than in cow's milk, so individuals with lactose intolerance (the inability to digest lactose, resulting in intestinal discomfort) may tolerate goat's milk better.
Goat's milk is often touted as an alternative for individuals with allergies to cow's milk. Goat's milk may be better tolerated, yet it can cause adverse reactions in individuals who are extremely sensitive to caseins or other proteins, such as lactoglobulins. Conversely, individuals who tolerate cow's milk may show sensitivity to goat's milk. Some parents of infants and toddlers prefer goat's milk to cow's milk or formula due to its superior digestibility, but nutritional adequacy is dependent on fortification, particularly folate. Use of unpasteurized (raw) goat's milk or dairy foods has serious health risks, including brucellosis, listeriosis, staphylococcus infection, salmonella poisoning, and toxoplasmosis.
See also Cheese; Dairy Products; Meat.
Addrizzo, John R. "Use of Goat Milk and Goat Meat as Therapeutic Aids in Cardiovascular Diseases." In Meat Goat Production and Marketing Handbook, edited by Frank Pinkerton and B. W. Pinkerton. Raleigh, N.C.: Rural Economic Development Center, 1994.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. FAOSTAT: Agriculture Data. Available at .
Harwell, Lynn, and Frank Pinkerton. "Consumer Demand for Goat Meat." In Meat Goat Production and Marketing Handbook, edited by Frank Pinkerton and B. W. Pinkerton. Raleigh, N.C.: Rural Economic Development Center, 1994.
Luikart, Gordon, et al. "Multiple Maternal Origins and Weak Phylogeographic Structure in Domestic Goats." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98 (8 May 2001): 5927.
Razafindrakoto, Odile, et al. "Goat's Milk as a Substitute for Cow's Milk in Undernourished Children: a Randomized Double-Blind Clinical Trial," Pediatrics 94 (1994): 65.
United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Food Safety of Goat and Horse. Washington D.C., 1997.
United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 14. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, Available at http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp.2001.
Zeder, Melinda A., and Brian Hesse. "The Initial Domestication of Goats (Capra hircus) in the Zagros Mountains 10,000 Years Ago," Science 287 (24 March 2000): 2254.
Pamela Goyan Kittler
|Selected nutrients in milk|
|(1 cup/244 grams)|
|Calories||Protein (g)||Fat (g)||Carbohydrate (g)||Calcium (mg)||Potassium (mg)||Vitamin A (IU)||Vitamin D (IU)||Folate (mcg)||Vitamin B-12 (mcg)|