Free-Range. Pesticide-free. Hormone-Free. Those buzzwords seen in supermarkets show that the organic revolution is catching on in the Philippines. With consumers becoming increasingly concerned about how their food is raised, companies have started to introduce organic versions of mainstream products. These are priced higher than the regular kind, with free-range chickens costing more than twice as much per kilo.
Though I am not much of an environmentalist, I am passionate about delicious food. So, I came up with a quick kitchen experiment to find out if organic chickens taste better than their conventional counterparts.
I kept the test simple. I cooked 4 similar-sized chickens (3 free-range ones, and 1 regular, to serve as the control factor) the same way, in the same oven, and with similar flavoring ingredients.
I used Thomas Keller’s foolproof method for roasting chicken. Just “rain” salt and pepper all over the bird, and bake it at 450-500 degrees F, until the juices run clear. A 1 kg bird would take about an hour to cook.
To allot for minor differences in size and, consequently, cooking time, I cooked each chicken until the thickest part of the breast registered around 165 degrees F.
From there, I took the meat from the left breast of each bird for sampling. (Yes, I was taking this experiment way too seriously.)
Alas, there was no noticeable difference in taste that I could identify among the four roasted chickens. Maybe one was a bit moister than the others, but I only noticed the difference when I concentrated hard enough. I even asked some of my family members for their opinion. They tasted it blind, not knowing which chicken was which. Still, they unanimously said that it all tasted the same.
If you don’t really care how your food was raised, then just buy any chicken you can afford. It’s hard to justify spending more on something that generally tastes the same as the cheaper alternative.
Also, keep in mind that the free-range label could just be a marketing gimmick to justify selling the same product at a higher price. With a bit of research (i.e., typing “free-range chicken definition” in Google), I found that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows producers to use the free-range label if it has proven that the birds were raised “with access to the outside”. It’s quite clear that the definition is too broad, and open to different interpretations. I mean, what does “access” and “outside” actually mean? So, unless stricter guidelines are made, that free-range bird you’re eating could easily have been trapped inside a pen together with its regular cousins.
In terms of taste, it was clear that all chickens are made equal. Of course, this doesn’t mean that using other free-range meats will also yield similar results. Culinary rock star David Chang (of Momofuku fame) professes that humanely treated pork tastes a great deal better than its factory-farmed kin. And we all know that lovingly treated Kobe cows result in a fatty and incredibly delicious end-product.
Still, do you believe that organic ingredients are worth their bigger price tags? Have you tried anything organic that tasted better than the regular version?
[Image via Academic.Ru]