What’s the Difference Between Supermarket Free-Range and Conventional Chickens?February 21, 2016
We wanted to find out how free-range chickens vary from conventional ones, so we decided to put it to the test. There are situations where a more humane treatment of animals resulted in better food. Take, for example, ikejime, a method of killing fish in Japan that paralyzes them and eliminates all motion. Zero movement prevents the muscles from producing any lactic acid, which would normally make the fish sour. It’s also considered to be the most humane way of dealing with fish.
In the case of poultry, free-range chickens are allowed to wander in open areas and are grown more naturally (i.e. less synthetic feeds, more vegetation). Their cooped up counterparts on the other hand will probably never see the light of day, all hunkered down in cages, pecking away at chicken feed. So, does freedom make a better chicken?
We took two birds form the same brand; one free-range and one grown conventionally, and used both of their breasts and legs to determine differences in both white and dark meat. The chicken parts were seasoned and cooked the same way.
The conventional chicken is bigger—and cheaper, by P37. The free-range bird, while smaller, is priced at P175 per kilo, while the normal one clucks at P138. That’s a 27% price increase. However, the free-range does come with the innards which might explain why it is more expensive, but aside from the size and the price there are no other noticeable differences.
White Meat (Breast):
The free-range chicken breast is minuscule compared to the normal one, at almost half its size. There are differences though when the meat is cooked. The free-range breast is firmer and the skin tastes slightly better. The conventional chicken, on the other hand has a higher water content, which makes the muscle fibers flaky, the kind that sticks to your teeth when you’re almost done chewing.
Dark Meat (Leg):
Here, the leg of the free-range is only slightly smaller compared to the conventional but the real difference is in the fat. Since the conventional chicken leg has more fat, it retains more of its juices when cooked. The fat helps in making meat more moist, and creates a better crunch compared to the free-range.
- Has more fat
- Better dark meat
- More expensive but comes with innards
- Better texture
- Has less fat
- Better white meat
Overall, the meat both generally taste the same and the results are similar to our first free-range experiment. However, the differences should help you in determining which chicken to buy, through their price, size, meat texture, and fat.