Would you pay $8.99 a pound for salt water? If you are purchasing your chicken at a big chain supermarket, you are!
The other day I was walking through Fred Meyer. Although Fred Meyer has a great natural food section, I don’t usually purchase my meats and chicken at Fred Meyer. I prefer organic, grass fed and local, if at all possible. I want to know where my meat comes from and frankly I don’t trust the labeling or the meat and poultry products that are sold at the big chain grocery store. Today’s post will shed some light on why I feel this way.
I noticed a new product in the poultry section. The packaging on these chickens made me stop and look. Even with a trained eye, my immediate thought when I saw this packaging was, ‘Great! They are now carrying an organic heritage chicken!’
Heritage chickens are a defined breed of chickens by the American Poultry Association. They are raised naturally (this is in the true sense of the term ‘naturally’ and not the industry sense of the term). They must reproduce naturally, have a long and productive OUTDOOR lifespan and have a slow growth rate.
So, when I first looked at the package, the word “Heritage” popped out. Then I took a closer look.
After investigating the brand, here is what I found out: Heritage Farm is the new private label brand put out by Kroger, the biggest supermarket operator in the US. They own Fred Meyer, QFC, Ralph’s and Smith grocery stores, to name a few. Heritage Farm replaces the “Kroger Value” brand name and is meant to be an entry level price point product.
The marketing department did a great job! These are the same chickens – yet, which one would you feel better about buying?
We’ll talk about their tagline “Where Value Grows” in a minute. First, let’s look at the line “Enhanced with up to 15% chicken broth.” This line is very prominently placed on the package. It is almost like they are proud of this.
Plumping, or injecting, as it is called in the industry, has been going on for some time.
In the past five years, this industry process has become the standard. Fresh chicken is injected with a solution of saltwater so it stays juicier and more flavorful (so they say). The solution contains a long list of ingredients that can account for up to 15%, or more, of the chicken’s weight. Some studies have shown up to 30% weight.
Why did the industry start the practice of plumping or injecting? This again goes back to the idea that when you start to remove the fat from the product, you start to lose the taste. When breeders started growing birds with too large of breast meat (more muscle and less fat) this resulted in a dryer, less tasty bird.
A saline injection kept the bird more moist, but this still didn’t help with the flavor, SO “natural flavor” was added in the form of broth, lemon concentrates and corn syrup or other forms of sugar.
Early on sodium phosphate was also added as a binder, to help the chicken retain water during shipping and cooking. To allow for ‘low sodium’ labels, this ingredient was replaced with potassium phosphate. Since potassium phosphate makes meat taste more bitter, even more ‘natural flavors’ were needed to mask the flavor.
You will still find the words ‘All-Natural’ on the label, as long as all the ingredients that they injected into the chicken are legally considered as natural. This doesn’t sound natural to me and I know that this doesn’t sound natural to you.
If you purchase a package of injected chicken for $6, you will likely be paying at least $1 to $1.50 for the salt water solution and you are likely consuming at least 400 milligrams of added sodium. One chicken breast could eat up 20% of your sodium intake before you even start eating the rest of the meal!
If we look at this on a national scale, it is estimated that consumers are paying $2 billion dollars a year for the salt water that is injected into chickens. Now the tag line “Where Value Grows” makes sense!