The first time you eat heritage chicken, you will forget everything you knew about what poultry can be. The chicken that most people are used to, because it's sold in restaurants and stores, is what people expect when they think of chicken. It's fairly mild in flavor, it can be kind of limp in texture, but most importantly, it's all the same. Literally, the chickens growing in coops in the Northeast are, genetically, the same breed as chickens growing in the Southwest. Seriously, did you ever wonder why the same chicken recipe can be used on birds that were raised in two different parts of the world? It's because there's no difference in the meat.
Enter heritage chicken, which is not one chicken, but several different breeds, each with their own unique characteristics. Some are great for frying, others for stewing. Some are great sauteed while other types need to be cooked a long time before they're ready. However, in just about every case, if you know what to do with them, heritage chicken has a flavor unlike what you're used to. Even better, if raised properly, heritage breeds can actually have less of an environmental impact and can help the ecosystem. This is why they're important, but let's consider these factors in a little more depth.
First and foremost, heritage chicken is nature's chicken. It hasn't been tampered with or genetically engineered. The chicken you find in stores, even if it's all natural or organic still comes from a genetically engineered breed that was created not for its flavor, but for its size and so that it grows three times as fast as natural chicken. Never forget that terms like all natural and organic refer to how the meat was raised, not the stock from which the chicken came. For food purists, this alone is a point for heritage chicken.
While there is nothing that says heritage chicken has to be raised humanely, in practice it often is. Unless it specifically says free range, today's chicken is born in a huge chicken barn, lives in its own droppings and cannot move around both because there's no room and because it has been engineered to be so large it might break its own legs while walking. These conditions cannot produce the same quality of chicken as free range.
The good news is that today, heritage chicken ranchers let their chickens run free and let them have happy lives, which produces a higher quality of meat.
Again, the chicken you buy in the store was engineered so that it would grow faster and larger than natural chicken. The good news is that science has produced a bigger bird. Sadly, it has done this at the cost of flavor. Try it for yourself and see if you agree heritage, chicken tastes better.
All commercial chicken is essentially one breed. This means our entire poultry supply is currently extremely susceptible to disease, parasites, and other pressures whereas having multiple breeds of chicken means that at least one breed might be resistant to the disease. Should something happen that would affect chicken, like the recent Avian flu scare, it would be possible to wipe out just about every chicken in the world. Even if it doesn't kill the entire chicken population, scares like the bird flu drive up the price of chicken just because there are no other alternatives.
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