Organic Chicken vs. Regular Chicken

organic, free-range chicken
regular, factory chicken
If you're wondering what the difference between organic chicken vs. regular chicken is, consider the fact that sometimes it's what you don't get that counts.  

Most people never really think about where the chicken they buy comes from. It's there in the store, neatly packaged and ready for cooking. Does it really matter whether it's organic chicken or non-organic? What's the difference besides the cost? Is the extra cost worth it?

organic chicken is pink
There are several reasons why someone might choose organic chicken vs. regular chicken. The first reason is that they believe that organic chicken is healthier. You can actually tell organic chicken vs. regular chicken by the color. Organic chicken tends to have a pinkish skin or complexion. This because their natural diet consists of bugs, seeds and other organic edible things the birds find while foraging. While they may receive some feed from the farmer, it is organic and the bulk of their diet self-provided and natural.

regular chicken looks yellow
Regular chicken, on the other hand, usually has a yellow skin. Does the difference in color necessarily mean organic is better? No. It simply shows that there is a difference in what the chickens eat. The reason regular chickens look this way is because they are fed with growth enhancers and mostly feed on yellow corn-based or soy-based feeds with additives. Also, in the past, some poultry companies used marigolds to enhance the yellow as the public was led to believe that yellow skinned chicken was superior. The result of the unnatural additives is the unnatural color and a larger size. Ever wonder how chicken breasts can sometimes weigh about a pound a piece sometimes? Growth hormones do that.

In addition to feed, there is difference in how organic chickens vs. regular chickens are raised. This is another reason a person might choose organic chicken vs. regular chicken. Humanely-raised, organic chickens must be allowed to live in an area large enough for movement and necessary preening. They must be allowed sufficient time outside and adequate time in full sunlight. On the other hand, regular chickens spend their time in very tight quarters. Chickens raised conventionally in factory houses usually are prone to getting sick due to the quick and easy way diseases are transmitted among cramped and crowded birds. Farmers must administer antibiotics to prevent the spread of these diseases. Organic chickens do not need these drugs and the practice of organic chicken farming tends to prevent the spread of bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics.

 Nutritionally, as far as proteins and minerals, there is essentially no difference between organic chicken vs. regular chicken. According to the USDA, a standard 3 oz. serving of skinless, boneless chicken of either type provides 25 grams of protein. Free-range organic chicken may have slightly less fat content vs. regular chicken due to increased ability to get exercise and they may contain additional trace mineral due to their varied diet. 

But what about the taste? Many people claim that there is a difference. But some also say that the cook makes more difference than the farmer. I personally believe there is a difference in taste. Organic does taste better and here is some of the reason why: regular birds are dipped in a chlorinated cold water bath to chill, whereas organic birds tend to be air-chilled and mist-sprayed to cool. It is possible that the regular chickens absorb some of that chlorine water, which consequently can artificially add weight for the market. Also, it is a fact that the more mature the chicken, the better the taste. Factory-raised birds tend to be harvested at about 40 days compared to over 60 days for organic birds. This is possible due to the growth enhancers.

Another difference between organic chicken vs. regular chicken is the fact that organic birds may contain lower levels of food-illness causing bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter. A 2009 Consumer Reports study found that about 2/3 of chickens they tested had one or both of these bacteria. They also found that the cleanest birds were the organic air-chilled broiling chickens - only 40% of those tested positive for contamination.This being said, you should always be on the safe side and assume every bird has germs. Always treat your raw chicken with care and make sure you cook to at least 165 degrees F and store uncooked poultry at 40 degrees F.

So, what do you think? Is organic chicken worth the extra cost? If you are concerned ethically with the living conditions of the chicken, nutritionally with the fact that they are hormone and antibiotic-free and taste-wise that they are more flavorful, then yes, organic chicken is the better choice vs. regular chicken. But it's up to you.

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