Goat meat, known as cabrito or chivito in Mexico, is a popular ingredient in traditional Mexican cuisine. Cabrito refers specifically to young, milk-fed goat, while chivito can mean goat of any age. The terms are often used interchangeably.
The popularity of goat meat in Mexico
Goat meat has been an important part of Mexican food culture for centuries. In pre-Hispanic times, goats were among the first animals domesticated by indigenous groups in Mexico. Goat herding allowed early civilizations like the Aztecs to have access to meat, milk, and skins.
Today, goat meat remains widely consumed in Mexico. It is especially common in the northern states, where goat ranching and farming are more prevalent. States like Nuevo León, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Baja California are major producers of goat meat in the country.
The climate and vegetation of northern Mexico are well suited for raising goats. The animals thrive on the scrubby landscape. Goat meat is also popular because goats are cheaper to raise than cattle and require less land to graze.
How goat meat is prepared and eaten
Young goat, or cabrito, is considered a delicacy in Mexico. It has a tender texture and mild, sweet flavor prized by many cooks. Cabrito is often slow roasted or pit-barbecued until extremely tender and juicy. A classic dish is cabrito al pastor – the meat is marinated in chili paste and other bold spices, then roasted on a rotisserie.
In rural areas, a traditional way to cook cabrito is to dig a pit and fill it with hot coals from a wood fire. The seasoned goat is wrapped in maguey leaves and cooked underground for hours. This technique, known as barbacoa, imparts incredibly rich, smoky flavors.
Chivito from older goats is cooked using moist heat methods like stewing or braising. Birria, a specialty of Jalisco, is a spicy goat stew flavored with chilies and tomatoes. Chivito can also be cut into thin strips to make machacado – dried meat that is rehydrated and sauteed.
Goat offal is also popular, especially in dishes like menudo (tripe stew). The liver, kidneys, brain and other organs are slow-cooked to make a soft, flavorful filling for tacos.
Regional Mexican goat dishes
Here are some examples of iconic goat meat dishes found in different parts of Mexico:
- Birria – A famous goat stew from Jalisco, cooked with chilies and spices
- Cabrito al pastor – Young goat roasted on a vertical spit, based on shawarma brought by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico
- Barbacoa – Meat like goat or lamb slow-cooked in a pit, often wrapped in maguey leaves
- Chivito en salsa verde – Goat simmered in a bright green, chili-based sauce
- Machacado – Dried and shredded goat meat, rehydrated and sauteed with tomatoes, onions, chilies
- Tacos de cabeza – Tacos filled with goat head meat, a specialty in parts of northern Mexico
Where to find goat dishes in Mexico
Goat meat is widely available at local markets, butchers shops, and restaurants across Mexico. However, some regions are especially renowned for their goat dishes.
States like Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Sonora have strong goat meat traditions and many restaurants that spotlight cabrito and chivito. The city of Monterrey in Nuevo León is famous for cabrito al pastor served at restaurants like El Rey del Cabrito.
In central states like Michoacán, Hidalgo, Aguascalientes and Jalisco, classic birria and barbacoa made with goat can be found. The city of Guadalajara in Jalisco is known for its birrierias, restaurants specializing in birria.
On the Yucatán peninsula, goat stew made with recado rojo seasoning can be found. The city of Mérida in Yucatán has restaurants that serve longaniza de chivo – goat chorizo.
The southern state of Oaxaca has flavorful chivito dishes like chivo mixteco – goat simmered in a rich mole sauce. The Sunday markets in Oaxaca city are good spots to pick up goat meat for cooking at home.
Celebrations featuring goat meat
Goat dishes are often the centerpiece of celebrations in Mexico. Here are some of the most important events where goat meat takes a starring role:
During Semana Santa (Holy Week) leading up to Easter, birria de chivo is an important dish. Goat birria represents the sacrificial lamb eaten at the Last Supper.
Serving cabrito al pastor is a tradition at many Mexican weddings, especially in northern states. It signifies the joining of two families.
At quinceañera coming-of-age parties for girls, birria is commonly served as part of the feast.
For Christmas dinner, roasted goat or cabrito enchilado – goat simmered in a chili sauce – are festive choices.
On September 16, Mexico’s Independence Day, many towns have festivals and rodeos where barbacoa de chivo is a typical food.
Nutrition of goat meat
Goat meat is a nutritious red meat choice. Here is how it compares to other meats in key nutrients:
|Meat (3 oz serving)
Compared to beef, pork and chicken, goat meat is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol. It is higher in protein and essential nutrients like iron, potassium, and vitamin B12.
The lean nature of goat makes it easier to digest than fattier meats. Some people find goat easier on their stomach than other red meats.
Raising goats for meat in Mexico
Mexico has a long tradition of goat farming and ranching. Here is some background on goat meat production in Mexico:
- There are over 10 million goats raised for meat in Mexico, according to FAO data.
- The main goat breeds used for meat are Boer, Nubian, and Alpine. These breeds grow quickly and produce lean, tasty meat.
- Most goat herds in Mexico are small-scale operations owned by rural farming families. Goats are an important source of income and food security.
- Some larger commercial goat farms have emerged in northern Mexico to meet demand from the meat industry and U.S. export markets.
- Goats are raised on pasture and scrubland unsuited to other agriculture. They provide an efficient use of marginal land.
- Goat farming practices in Mexico aim for sustainability. For example, goats control weed growth and fertilize fields with manure.
Overall, goat ranching allows Mexico to take advantage of its diverse landscapes to produce high-quality meat and support rural livelihoods.
Global context of goat meat consumption
On a global scale, goat meat is an important protein source, especially in developing countries. Here is how Mexico’s goat meat traditions fit into broader patterns of consumption:
- Worldwide goat inventory stands at over 1 billion animals, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
- Goat meat makes up about 5% of global meat intake, behind pork, chicken, and beef.
- The largest goat meat-eating countries are China, India, and Nigeria. Mexico ranks #13.
- Goat is the most commonly consumed red meat in Africa and parts of Asia.
- Rising immigration has made goat more popular in the U.S., but it remains a niche meat.
- Global demand for goat is projected to keep increasing due to growing populations, rising incomes in developing nations, and the goat’s efficient feed-to-meat conversion.
Mexico’s long love affair with goat meat reflects patterns seen in other parts of the developing world. Cabrito, birria, and chivito have also gained some international recognition as Mexican food gains popularity worldwide.
Reasons for the popularity of goat meat in Mexico
Several interlinking factors help explain why goat meat has been so well-incorporated into Mexican cuisine and culture:
Goats thrive in hot, desert climates like northern Mexico better than cattle and other livestock. They can browse on sparse vegetation and tolerate drought. Goats were an efficient meat source for ancient civilizations in arid Mexican environments.
Eating goat has been passed down for generations and maintains a symbolic value at celebrations. Traditional cooking techniques highlight goat’s flavor – like barbacoa pit cooking.
The free-ranging nature of goat herds results in more flavorful meat than feedlot-raised animals. Meat from young milk-fed goat cabrito is considered particularly tender and delicate.
Marination and sauces
Mexicans have developed marinades and spice pastes that add bold, complex flavors to neutral-tasting goat meat.
Goats provide meat, milk, and hides with lower input costs than cattle farming in Mexico’s rugged landscape. Goat are called “the cow of the poor” and support food access in rural areas.
Rising middle class demand for meat proteins make goat an affordable alternative to pricy beef. Most of Mexico’s goat meat is consumed domestically rather than exported.
Dishes like birria have come to represent regional Mexican identities. Eating goat meat expresses cultural heritage.
Recent trends influencing goat meat in Mexico
Several current factors are shaping the goat meat industry and consumption patterns in Mexico:
The U.S. imports over 7,000 metric tons of goat meat from Mexico annually, making Mexico the 3rd largest foreign supplier after Australia and New Zealand. Most exports are lower-value cuts like bone-in legs.
International visitors to Mexico are becoming more aware of regional goat specialties through food tourism. Some tour companies now offer goat farm visits and tastings.
Major Mexican restaurant chains like Birriería El Chivito are popularizing goat dishes like birria across the country with standardized recipes.
High-end chefs are reinventing classic cabrito and chivito recipes at restaurants in Mexico City, Tijuana, Monterrey, and expat cities like Los Angeles.
Raising small herds of dairy goats for meat is growing among urban and peri-urban farmers. Dairy breeds like Nubian provide meat as a secondary product.
Overgrazing and drought is forcing some Mexican goat farmers to reduce herd sizes. Breeding for hardiness, rotational grazing, and improved water access can address concerns.
Goat has moved from a staple meat of ancient civilizations to an iconic ingredient across Mexico’s diverse regions. Young, milk-fed cabrito maintains its prestige, while chivito goat meat is widely adapted into everyday dishes. From festive birria stews to simple backyard barbacoas, goat meat satisfies tradition and necessity. Changing tastes, economies, and environments will continue to shape Mexico’s deep relationship with its beloved chivitos.