Organic, Free-Range, Factory: All Chickens Taste the Same

Why not just go plastic?


Do you prefer your chickens to be organic, free-range or straight from the factory? According to the Australian consumer advocacy center Choice, it doesn't make a whit of difference, at least taste-wise.

Tasting eight different brands of chooks, including two organic, two free-range, two corn-fed and three of your factory-variety Perdue-style yardbirds, the Aussie tasters formed a general consensus that the way your chicken dinner was raised had little or no effect on how it goes down. In fact, one of the organic and one of the corn-fed varieties each raised a minor ruckus, with some tasters saying they hated them (one questioned whether a corn-fed bird had been "pumped up" while another said it had "no real chicken flavor") and others preferring them.

Choice's recommendation for finding the most flavorful bird: Go to a smaller producer with traditional breeds and buy longer-lived chickens (say, 81 days old or more). That or buy the largest (and thus longest-lived) chicken you can, because it'll have had more time to develop its flavor.

Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to buy organic or free-range chickens over factory-raised chickens (though a 2006 UK study found organic chickens there were actually less nutritious than their mass-produced counterparts). But the Choice test seems to mirror similar taste studies around the globe, which brings up questions about whether organic and free-range chickens really deserve such a dramatically higher price tag at the market. Personally, the only time I can find a noticeable difference in birds is when they're either kosher (i.e., brined) or fresh off a farm.

Have any of you conducted organic vs. free-range vs. factory-chicken taste tests? What were the results? Do you opt out of buying organic or free-range? If you buy organic or free-range, what makes it worth the higher price?

Michael Y. Park is a writer living in Brooklyn , New York . He studied medieval history as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago , and journalism as a graduate student at New York University . His stories have appeared in publications including The New York Times, the New York Post, and the Toronto Globe and Mail. He has feasted at a picnic with the king and queen of Malaysia , and dined on roadside kebabs while disguised as a Hazara tribesman in Afghanistan . He runs a monthly grilling competition in New York City and actually owns a kitchen torch.


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