Duck for dinner

Ducks are very popular in China and in other parts of South East Asia where most rural families have their own duck ponds. In the UK most duck meat is eaten in Chinese restaurants, although it is increasingly common in other settings. Duck eggs especially are now appearing on the shelves of our butchers and supermarkets more often. Domestic ducks are normally descended from the mallard or less commonly the muscovy duck, which is known as barbary duck when used as food. Duck is also one of the few foods I found that begin with the letter "D"!

There are a large number of duck dishes including such favourites as duck a l'orange, Thai duck curry and crispy duck. Before tucking into your duck perhaps you'd like to know the answers to a few duck related questions.

  1. Is duck a healthy food?
  2. How do duck eggs compare with hen eggs?
  3. Are ducks an endangered species?
  4. Do ducks have a good life?

Is duck a healthy food?

Duck is well known for being higher in saturated fat and cholesterol than other poultry such as chicken and turkey. I've looked up the facts and can confirm that it is indeed higher in saturated fat (9.5% for duck against 5.9% for chicken). However it contains pretty much the same level of cholesterol (<0.1%) as chicken, most of which is in the meat and not the skin, contrary to popular belief. Amounts of healthy omega 3 fats are pretty much equivalent between chicken and duck and amount to about 0.3%. Vitamin B3 (niacin) and selenium are other micronutrents that are found in poultry in good amounts, with some iron, zinc and copper also featuring.

So what does all this mean for health? Well as stated in a previous article here dietary cholesterol and saturated fat are unlikely to be big health issue for the vast majority of us. Cholesterol in the diet rarely raises blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat in the diet does, but blood cholesterol levels have not been well linked with heart disease despite the popular belief that it is. They are also not generally linked with other adverse health outcomes either. So my take on duck, and indeed chicken is that they are healthy parts of a meat eaters diet. They contain useful vitamins and minerals and provide a healthy dose of protein which we all need every day.

One consideration you should bear in mind however is that duck may come served up in less healthy sauces than chicken. Amounts of sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate may be rather high. If you are cooking it yourself then you can control this, if you are in a restaurant then it is worth bearing in mind. In my experience the duck often comes simply done with sauces that you can add. If this is the case just go easy on the sauces.

How do duck eggs compare with hen eggs?

Duck eggs are larger and have a thicker shell than hen eggs which theoretically increases their shelf life. Their egg yolks are more of an orange colour and they also have a greater ratio of yolk to white, which has implications for the overall nutritional value of the egg. Yolks are the part of an egg that contain most of the vitamins, minerals and essential fats that sustain a growing bird. As such a duck egg will pack a greater nutritional punch than a hen egg. The deeper orange colour of the yolk indicates the presence of carotenoids such as beta-carotene a precursor to vitamin A and of other carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin that help keep the eye healthy by preventing macular degeneration, a common cause for loss of vision in old age.

As with chickens the way the duck was reared and what it was fed on will affect the quality of the egg. If your duck egg was laid by a factory farmed duck it will not be as healthy as an egg from a duck which was raised in a free ranging environment with access to quality duck foods.

Are ducks an endangered species?

No. Mallard ducks, which are the ones used for most duck you will find on your plate are very plentiful, especially in China, but there are plenty on your local duck pond for sure. There are endangered species of duck such as the White-headed duck, White-winged duck, Laysan duck and Mellor's duck. If you find these being served I'd urge you to boycott the restaurant and report the owner to the wildlife authorities.

Do ducks have a good life?

As with chickens there are factory farmed ducks and free range ducks. In other words many ducks have a poor life and many are killed in an inhumane way. Both factors have an impact not just on the duck community, but also on the quality of the duck meat and duck eggs. I understand that most ducks sold in supermarkets in the UK and served in restaurants are factory farmed with perhaps as little as 5% being free ranging. If you do enjoy duck it may be worth looking for organic certification. While organic certification is sometimes abused and at other times is an expense which seems an unfair cost to impose on food producers in the case of chickens and ducks it may be the only way to start to distinguish humanely produced meat.

Some ducks are used along with geese in the production of foie gras, which rightfully in my opinion has a bad reputation. In fact 80% of foie greas comes from ducks. They are generally kept in cages the size of shoe boxes and force fed through metal tubes 2-3 times a day. Frankly it is an abominable practice and the reason that I don't eat the stuff.