Who Put Water in My Chicken?
Americans reportedly consume 60.4 pounds of chicken each year. It’s not 100% protein; in fact, there’s more water in chicken than anything else. It comes from a variety of sources and nutrition labels only tell half of the story. While the Unites States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently proposed a new rule that would require a more prominent label for meats that have added solutions, usually salt and water, a new label won’t reveal how the water in your chicken got there.
Poultry has a large amount of naturally occurring water, including muscle, connective tissue, fat, and bone. While people eat chicken for the protein content in the muscle, it’s important to note, depending on the cut, chicken is approximately 75% water, and only about 20% protein, with the remainder being fat, carbohydrate and minerals. You can expect to lose about 6-8% of your chicken’s weight in naturally-occurring water after cooking.
After being slaughtered, many chickens are cooled in what’s called a “chill tank” of moving water. During this process, water is absorbed. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA, the retained or absorbed water from this process must be prominently displayed on the nutrition label. They report 8 to 12% of absorbed water in poultry as “not unusual.” But, not all chickens go through this process.
If you’ve wondered about the extra “juice” you see in raw chicken packaging, that is called purge or weep. It is caused by temperature changes the meat endures in refrigerated trucks. The trucks carry the meat at low temperatures, sometimes as cold as 1°F. However, the meat is usually displayed at grocery stores at 26°F and kept in your refrigerator at around 40°F. The gradual increase in temperature causes the meat to loosen up and slowly release moisture.
Plumping with Flavoring Solutions
Whether it’s soaked, marinated, or injected, many chicken items have a solution of water and salt or other flavoring in them. Under the proposed rule the name of the product would have to include the percentage of added solution, and the individual components of that solution. For example, "chicken breast – 40% added solution of water and teriyaki sauce." For now, the package may not indicate as such on the front, but the nutrition label and/or ingredients should reflect this addition. The labeling term “marinate” can only be used with specific amounts of solution. Marinated boneless chicken can contain no more than 8%; and bone-in chicken is limited to 3% solution.
Do you eat “plumped” chicken purposely or do you think it should be illegal to add salt and water to it?