A recent post by a Facebook user named “Ketogenic Easy Recipes” has sparked a lot of curiosity and debate about the color of chicken in Mexico and the US. The user, who said he had just moved to Mexico, shared a photo of a raw chicken with a yellow skin and meat, and asked: “Is it better?, Why is that?, Is it a different breed than typically used in the US?”.
The post received thousands of comments and reactions, with some people claiming that yellow chicken is healthier, tastier, or more natural, while others arguing that it is dyed, diseased, or spoiled. But what is the truth behind the color difference? And does it affect the quality and nutrition of the chicken? The answers may be more surprising than you think, and we did some extensive research to find out the truth.
The Color of Chicken Depends on Several Factors
The color of chicken, and especially of the chicken breast, depends on a number of factors, such as the breed and genetics of the animal, the type and quality of feed, the environment and living conditions, and the processing and storage methods.
One of the main factors that influence the color of chicken is the presence of carotenoids, which are natural pigments found in plants and animals. Carotenoids give color to many fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, tomatoes, and peppers, as well as to egg yolks, salmon, and flamingos.
Chickens can get carotenoids from their diet, either by eating plants that contain them, such as corn, alfalfa, or marigolds, or by eating animal products that are rich in them, such as fish meal or insects. Carotenoids are fat-soluble, which means they accumulate in the fatty tissues of the chicken, including the skin and the dark meat. The more carotenoids the chicken consumes, the more yellow its skin and meat will become.
Another factor that affects the color of chicken is the scalding process, which is used to remove the feathers from the carcass after slaughter. Scalding involves immersing the chicken in hot water for a short time, which loosens the feathers and makes them easier to pluck.
However, scalding also removes the outer layer of the skin, called the cuticle, which protects the chicken from bacteria and spoilage. The cuticle also reflects light and gives the skin a white or pink appearance.
Without the cuticle, the skin becomes more transparent and reveals the underlying color of the fat and muscle.
The Color of Chicken Varies by Country and Culture
The color of chicken is not only determined by biological and physical factors, but also by cultural and economic ones. Different countries and regions have different preferences and standards for the color of chicken, which influence the production and consumption practices.
In the US, most consumers prefer white chicken, which is associated with cleanliness, freshness, and quality. White chicken is also cheaper and easier to produce, since it requires less feed and less processing. Therefore, most chicken producers in the US use breeds that have white skin and feathers, such as the Cornish Cross or the White Plymouth Rock, and feed them with a low-carotenoid diet, mainly based on soybean and wheat.
They also use a high-temperature scalding method, which removes the cuticle and any traces of yellow color from the skin.
This leads to why most chicken in Mexico is yellow. In Mexico many consumers prefer yellow chicken, which is associated with flavor, richness, and tradition. Yellow chicken is also more expensive and harder to find, since it requires more feed and more processing.
Therefore, many chicken producers in Mexico use breeds that have yellow skin and feathers, such as the Rhode Island Red or the New Hampshire, and feed them with a high-carotenoid diet, mainly based on corn and alfalfa. They also use a low-temperature scalding method, which preserves the cuticle and the yellow color of the skin.
The Color of Chicken Does not Affect its Taste or Nutrition
The color of chicken may have a psychological effect on the perception and preference of consumers, but it does not have a significant impact on the taste or nutrition of the meat. According to several studies, there is no difference in the protein, fat, or moisture content of chicken meat based on the color of the skin or the feed.
The only difference is the amount of carotenoids, which are antioxidants that have some health benefits, such as protecting the eyes and skin from UV damage and enhancing the immune system. However, the amount of carotenoids in chicken meat is very low compared to other sources, such as fruits and vegetables, and it is not enough to make a noticeable difference in the diet.