Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Has your chicken been "plumped"

Apparently chicken plumping sells $2,000,000,000 of salt water per year in the USA.

What's plumping?

Plumping involves injecting "fresh" chicken with water, salt and sometimes seaweed extract to make the chicken look juicier yet still retain the label, "all natural". Plumping can also raise the amount of sodium per serving of chicken to almost as much as you'd find in a serving of french fries.

How do you defend yourself against being plumped?

Simple. Read the ingredients. If they include water, salt and/or carrageenan you're buying salt water along with your chicken at $4.99 or so a pound.

[Via the WSJ]

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  1. Good tip for customers to check the salt content on their meat. However as long as customers are aware of it, I don't think this meat manipulation is particularly weird or unnatural. Seaweed extract aside, I have always seen the salt water "injections" as similar to brining the chicken - a traditional cooking step that involves soaking the chicken in a salt & sugar solution overnight.

    Chicken breast and "white meat" pork are hard for most people to cook successfully without brining because they're so low-fat - without brining, it's easy for chicken breast to shoot straight from "raw" to "sawdust dry". But, most people don't know enough about cooking to brine their meat before cooking it up, so it makes sense for modern meat packagers to brine the meat for them. One could argue that this helps customers choose lower-fat meats rather than rejecting them in favor of fattier meats that easily cook up "tender".

    I'm not really sure where the "injection" comes into it - I've never noticed needle marks on my chicken breasts, have you? - but I guess this is an industrial shortcut to the brining step.

    Personally, I much prefer to brine my own dang meat. That way we can add spices to the brine and use the salt/sugar mix we prefer to straight salt - and control the saltiness ourselves.

    I'm a new reader of your blog and have been enjoying the archive very much, especially the extended rant on Canada's "food guide". I've long been a fan of the HSPH alternative food pyramid, it's great to see it mentioned here.

  2. Nat, it's not so much that it's unnatural. It's that $4.99 (say for example) is a lot to pay per pound for salty water. I haven't seen it in chicken, but I notice a lot of brined pork out there too these days, and it often contains some kind of preservative. Just how old *is* that stuff? And do people not notice or care about the metallic aftertaste of the preservative?

    On the other hand I do rate brined chicken as better than some of the sh*t that's been showing up when I order chicken dishes at restaurants lately. Not yer better restaurants to be sure. But it's definitely a pressed and molded vaguely chicken-like substance, and not actual chicken by any stretch of the imagination.

  3. This is a nice column, but it only tells you how to know your chicken has brine in it.

    Unfortunately, just seeing the brine in the contents on the label doesn't tell you **where to find** chicken that is unbrined.

    Any suggestions in that vein?

  4. Great question (where to find un-plumped chicken).

    Not sure I have a great answer.

    One might assume local butchers, but maybe I'm mistaken there too.

    Anyone been to a supermarket recently?

  5. Some supermarket chicken is plumped, some isn't. Here in the US you can look at the "percent retained water" on the front label to see- Tyson is plumped, a smaller local label is not-so-much. My husband has sodium-sensitive high blood pressure (controls admirably with diet and exercise if we are careful), so I have to look carefully all the time.

  6. You could try local chicken farmers - there's a family on Rockdale Road in Navan, ON who raise free range chickens for eggs and poultry. We've bought eggs from them, but I'm still a bit squeamish about buying poultry that was likely happily clucking around the yard a few hours before it gets barbecued...

  7. Yoni, here in Houston we have some local ethnic (Mexican and Asian) groceries that sell decent meat cheap. I find it cooks better, with less shrinkage and less moisture, than the meat I buy at the grocery store.

  8. Anonymous9:16 am

    I'd be a lot happier knowing that if I took an animals life to feed myself and family, that it had at least had a good one, clucking around outside until it's demise :-)

  9. Anonymous8:28 pm

    Good butchers can order 2% water added boneless chicken breasts which is a fraction of the 15% - 30% water added chicken breasts most super markets sell. I get mine from my butcher, smallest size is a 10 lb case. I vacuum seal it and freeze it asap as it does not have the shelf life of plumped chicken. With the lower water content it freezes and thaws much better that the plumped stuff.

  10. Anonymous8:46 pm

    Thank you so much for this tid bit of information. As a thyroid cancer patient I have to go on a low iodine diet before my radioactive iodine treatment. While I can eat small portions of chicken I cannot have "plumped" chicken. I had no way of knowing which chicken at the store was plumped until i read this !! Thanks again :)

  11. Anonymous9:37 pm

    Yes, I saw needle marks tonight and not happy. Just because they SAY IT IS ONE question it REALLY? Not cool to be injected my food with anything or doing Monsanto type crapola JUST TO MAKE A BUCK!!! Grrrrr

  12. Anonymous9:48 pm

    Hmmm...truth in the packaging is going to be hard to come by since Monsanto has bought the FDA. Just saying...

  13. Anonymous3:19 pm

    This is a problem that seems to be getting worse. They have been pumping the chicken so full of solution, that it sometimes ruins my dinner because the chicken is so drippy, it makes the dish soggy. The texture is also different and doesn't cook as well.

    This is ridiculous. They shouldn't be able to charge a premium for such water-laden meat. I'm going to start buying my meat from local butchers.