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Is it possible that (for example) chicken raised in the United States has a different flavor from chicken raised in Europe? If so, why?

Are there genetic differences in the "breeds" of chicken used in various countries?

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Great responses, everyone. Quite informative! –  Tim S. Van Haren Sep 20 '11 at 19:01
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Antibiotics might be a reason, but it's not the only cause. Other significant reasons are:

  • exercise
  • feed
  • post-processing

Most of the chicken available in grocery stores in the U.S. is factory raised ... they're bulked up as quickly as possible without threat of predators. They're fed corn, rather than their acting as pest control on farms, where they'd be eating insects, moving about (in their search for insects and other things to eat), and possibly running away from predators (getting more exercise). That's not to say that free roaming chickens wouldn't be fed corn or other processed feed (or even antiobiotics), but that they'd still have an opportunity for other food. The lack of predators means that chickens never have to fly, so they don't need fast-twitch breast muscle, and they can grow to a size where they'd never be able to fly, even for short flight to excape predators.

Also not common in the U.S. are old chickens for stewing ... we have large chickens, but not necessarily the old ones, such as formerly egg-laying chickens that are no longer producing eggs. I have no idea what's done with those ... they're not in grocery stores, so I assume that they're used in some other way (dog food?).

One other possibility is the gender of the chicken. I don't believe that males are raised for meat (or anything else, really, other than in token amounts to sustain the species) in the U.S.. I assume that a higher percentage of roosters would be produced in other countries, but I have no idea if they might be culled early (if there are agression issues, etc, that would make them difficult to raise), like male cows are.

And as for the post-processing comment ... much of the U.S. chicken is sold cut up, possibly with a brine solution injected, rather than being sold whole. This doesn't seem like a big deal, other than the possibility of the brining, but it also means that chickens have been selectively bred for breast meat, rather than whole carcass weight. It also means that most of what we're eating is white meat, rather than a mix of white & dark meat.

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US poultry farms tend to use a TON of antibiotics... The antibiotics are supposed to stop diseases that would otherwise be rampant in chickens that are housed in close living quarters. (I might add that the USDA swears that it won't approve chickens treated with hormones, but I've seen enough conflicting complaints that I think it's still worth mentioning)

To your question, it's not (IMO) that all US chickens are less full-flavored, it's that your typical normal chicken in the meat case is quite likely been raised on the aforementioned hormones and antibiotics... I've had plenty of free-range (raised in the US) and they are noticably more flavorful than the average...

If you are up for some fun watching, Food Inc repeats a lot of what I've commonly heard about several various US food industries (including chicken): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1286537/

If you're looking for a true compare and contrast, I'd suggest you buy an "average" chicken and then buy a free-range chicken... You should recognize the free-range version as the same as his international bretheren.

EDIT

As a fair shot for the opposing side, here's a good article from NC State saying why hormones are illegal and pointless to use... That being said, Food Inc showed some pretty mutated birds that were bred for nothing but breast meat: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/newsletter/newsletter_nov04.pdf

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This strikes me as more of a rant than an informative answer. It's true that many U.S. farms use antibiotics. I'd prefer to see an answer showing some statistics about this (e.g. U.S. statistics vs. "other countries", if we are to take the question at face value) and more importantly an explanation of how this would affect flavour, or at least some evidence to back up the notion that it does have an effect. Otherwise this is a claim that anybody could make, whether or not they have any culinary knowledge. –  Aaronut Sep 17 '11 at 16:38
    
@Aaronut: To be fair, the clarification about different the differences in the taste between breeds was made after I had posted an answer. My post ended as a request Tim to try a free range vs "regular" store bought chicken... While I'll admit that it came off a bit "ranty", I was hoping more to point out that commercially grown/harvested food in the US is often quite different than heirloom/co-op/organic food, so again, my intent was to verify that he was asking about the commercially grown chicken. –  Rikon Sep 19 '11 at 2:44
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All of that is fine, but the post kind of went off the rails once it started linking to Food Inc and the idea of an "opposing side". It would have been sufficient to just say that factory-farmed meat has usually been given hormones and antibiotics which can change the taste, and that in your experience, free-range chicken in the U.S. tastes more like the chicken in other countries. The legality and morality issues are way out of scope. –  Aaronut Sep 19 '11 at 12:17
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Every chicken has differences; breed, food, lifestyle. This also applies to all food (animals and vegetables). These differences make for major changes in taste, texture, food value, and best cooking practises

There are often huge genetic difference in animals and vegetables around the world with the same name. In some case they are entirely different species e.g. pacific island Rail is "chicken" in some outposts (should be Phasianidae family, not Rallidae family)

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Hm ... didn't know other places called other species 'chicken', but as much of language is translation anyway, I could see how people would just apply the name to something close enough. Breed's probably a significant factor, as I know there's major differences in Muscovy vs. other ducks in the U.S. –  Joe Sep 20 '11 at 20:38
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