Australian mutton proves perfect protein for hotpot as exports to China hit record levels

Australian mutton proves perfect protein for hotpot as exports to China hit record levels

Well regarded for its flavour, fat and texture, a sheepmeat largely disregarded by Australian diners is growing in popularity in China.

A record 97,500 tonnes of mutton was exported to China last year, accounting for almost half of all Australian mutton exports.

Mutton is from a mature sheep and has more fat, flavour and is a darker colour when compared to lamb.

Two decades ago, Australians ate about 6 kilograms of mutton per person each year.

But today, most mutton is exported internationally, with local diners favouring milder and leaner lamb, which is meat from sheep less than a year old.

Australian diners prefer lamb for roasts and frying.(Margaret Burin: ABC Local)

Market analyst Matt Dalgleish said Chinese diners had discovered mutton was well suited to the hotpot style of cooking, where meat is simmered in a spicy broth and served communally.

He said the meat had fallen out of fashion domestically.

“It’s remembered as being an inferior meat when compared to lamb in terms of its toughness,” he said.

“But if you cook it right, the flavour and texture is exceptional, and part of that technique is how they do it in China with hotpot style.”

He said high-end diners in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing were prepared to pay a significant premium for Australian mutton.

Mutton is meat from sheep older than one year.(ABC Open contributor: Jason Schmidt)

Changing tastebuds

Mr Dalgleish said an outbreak of African Swine Fever in 2018, and the subsequent halving of the Chinese pig herd, was a turning point for Chinese diners.

“There was a massive gap in meat protein. That was replaced with exports from all places, and mutton from Australia was one of the key ones,” he said. 

“They were forced away from pork as it got expensive and there was low supply.

“They had to look at alternatives … particularly mutton because of its style as a more flavoursome meat and the fact that it held up well in [Chinese] cooking techniques.”

About 40 per cent of mutton exports to China were entire carcasses, while breast and flap cuts made about 30 per cent of exports.

Last year, Australia exported 210,000 tonnes of mutton and 326,000 tonnes of lamb.

In January this year, Australia exported 17,000 tonnes of mutton, the highest January export figure since 2007.

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