Mutton and lamb are both meats that come from the sheep, though the texture and flavor of these meats sets them apart from one another. Lamb describes a young sheep, whether it is still alive or has been slaughtered for use in a meal. The flavor of lamb is fairly mild and the texture, when the meat is prepared correctly, is delicate. An adult sheep is butchered in order to make mutton, a meat with a gamier flavor and a chewier consistency.
The main difference between mutton and lamb is the age of the animal from which the meat comes from. Lambs are young sheep and are butchered for their meat before their first birthday. Older sheep are butchered to make mutton, usually after they are two years old. In some parts of the world, there is a third category of sheep meat called hogget that is taken from a sheep between the ages of one and two.
Another difference between mutton and lamb is the flavor of the meat. In general, the younger a sheep is, the milder its flavor, and very young lambs of only a month or so are enjoyed in some parts of the world for this quality. As the sheep ages, enzymes build up in the muscle tissue, causing the meat to take on a distinctive flavor that is unique to these animals. Domestic sheep are not as gamey as wild animals, such as deer or boar, but the mutton taken from sheep older than a few years will have a rather strong flavor. Flavorful dishes may make use mutton, which complements pungent ingredients like garlic and mint well.
The texture of the meat is another way in which mutton and lamb differ. Though lambs, like other similar animals, can stand and walk soon after birth, they are quite weak for a while after they are born. Younger animals have a more delicately textured meat because they have not had time to build up muscle or tendon tissue. As the sheep age, the meat will toughen, making mutton ideal for use in slow-cooked dishes, such as stews.
The color of the meat of a sheep will also change as the sheep ages. Lambs have lightly colored meat, while adult sheep have dark red meat. This difference in coloration between mutton and lamb can be useful when people are trying to determine the age of the animal the meat came from before purchasing it.