So Many Types of Turkeys!
It’s almost time to make your Thanksgiving shopping list. When it comes to turkey, do you know what you’re buying? Labels are supposed to help us make good choices about grocery purchases, but sometimes they lead to more confusion. Here’s a quick glossary to terms that you might see on the packages of turkeys at a store near you. That way you can focus on buying what you want.
A “young” turkey is a turkey of either sex that is less than 8 months old at the time of slaughter. Most turkeys reach market maturity at 4-5 months of age.
Hen vs. Tom
Turkeys weighing 8-16 pounds are usually female hens, while larger birds are male toms. Since supermarket turkeys are normally slaughtered at a young age (less than 7 months old) both hens and toms are about the same in terms of taste, juiciness, and tenderness.
Natural turkeys may not contain artificial flavorings, coloring, or chemical preservatives. They must also be minimally processed, meaning they have only been handled as necessary to slaughter, clean, and make them ready for human consumption.
Free-range turkeys are produced by a growing number of regional farmers who promote their birds as a higher quality and more humane alternative to commercially raised and processed turkeys. According to the USDA, turkeys must have access to the outdoors in order to be called free-range. Advocates of free-range birds say their diets are typically more varied, improving the flavor of the meat, and the better exercise improves the texture.
Organic turkeys are free-range birds that have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics, and were given pesticide-free feed.
Heritage turkeys are unusual breeds that were once quite common in America, but fell out of favor as growers concentrated on the specially bred, big-breasted birds preferred by consumers. Some varieties include Narragansett, American Bronze, Jersey Buff, and Bourbon Red. They generally have less breast meat and a stronger flavor than conventional varieties.
A self-basting turkey is injected with a solution to improve the flavor and juiciness of the meat. Some manufacturers treat only the breast meat, while others inject the entire bird. The label must say “basted” or “self-basted” and must list the amount and names of the ingredients used in the basting solution. (Remember, the net weight of the turkey includes the weight added by the solution.)
True to its name, fully-cooked turkey is a whole turkey that has been pre-cooked and frozen by the processor. After thawing, it can be reheated or served cold.
Fresh, Refrigerated, and Frozen
The term “fresh” may only be placed on raw poultry that has never been below 26°F. Poultry held at 0°F or below must be labeled “frozen” or “previously frozen.” So in the context of turkey, “fresh” has to do only with its temperature from the time it was processed until you bought it at the store. It has nothing to do with how long it’s been sitting in the display case.
So. . .now that you know the terminology, the question is, which one tastes the best? That is, of course, a matter of taste. Tell us your opinion. . .which do you prefer and why?
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