It’s officially turkey season! That’s right. In fact this week alone for Thanksgiving Americans will consume 46 million turkeys. If that isn’t a truly shocking figure, I don’t know what is. I’ve never had to officially buy a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner but in the past few weeks they’ve appeared in stores. Almost overnight a parade of frozen turkey birds began to line the shelves. I’m comfortable enough understanding labels on beef (even when they’re concerned with quality grades), milk, pork and chicken. But turkey, for me that’s a seasonal specialty. So today we’re going to discuss how to decipher free range and all the other turkey labels you may come across!
There are essentially three types of marketing via turkey labels. Turkeys will be labeled with information regarding how they are raised, physiological characteristics, and how they are processed/stored.
Turkey Labels Dependent on Raising
Most turkeys do not qualify as ‘free range.’ Essentially free range for turkeys means that they have access to the outside for 51% of their lives during their normal growing cycle. It’s important to note that just because an animal has access to the outside this doesn’t mean that they will venture outside. Furthermore most are still technically enclosed to keep them safe from any predators.
Farmers raise most turkeys conventionally for market in the United States. This means that they live in a comfy climate controlled barn. This helps keep them safe from predators, bad weather and prevents them from being exposed to any harmful diseases. Turkeys that are conventionally raised can be treated with antibiotics if they become sick. Turkeys raised conventionally can also consume feed that has been genetically modified as part of their balanced diet. You will probably not see turkeys raised conventionally boasting many special labels.
Turkeys that are labeled organic must meet two primary components. They cannot be treated with antibiotics ever. In addition to this they also consume feed that has been grown organically and is not genetically modified. It is important if you are wanting an organic turkey that it is certified organic by the USDA rather than an individual state. This guarantees the standards used when growing your product.
No Added Antibiotics/Raised Without Use of Antibiotics
When you see the label no added antibiotics or raised without use of antibiotics this means that they bird you are consuming has never been given antibiotics. It is important to note that any turkey you consume will never have antibiotics present regardless of if it is labeled. So again, you could pay a premium for the same physical product.
No Hormones Added
This is a label I absolutely wouldn’t pay extra for. When you see no hormones added on any poultry this is an worthless label because they are illegal to use in production. You will never purchase poultry that ever had hormones used in production (which includes chicken) because it is not allowed.
Turkey Labels Dependent on Physiological Characteristics
This label is dependent upon age, it means the turkey is 16 weeks of age or less. Essentially this means because they are so young, they should be very tender which is why some choose to purchase fryer-roaster turkeys.
Hen or Tom Turkey
A turkey being labeled as a “hen” or “tom” just is designated as male (tom) or female (hen). The only reason you would choose one over the other is because of size. Presumably a tom may be bigger but also have bigger bones thus less usable meat.
Chances are if you grew up in the United States you probably spent time in school learning about the first Thanksgiving. Though as you grew up chances are some of the details and nuances changed one thing remained the same. The first Thanksgiving they probably ate turkey – though ducks, swans or geese could have been consumed as well. Back then turkey weren’t farmed domestically. However they already existed as they were indigenous to this part of the United States.
When a turkey is identified as a heritage breed this means that it is one of the original breeds of turkey present during the colonial time. Because it is an older breed this means it tastes a little different (some prefer it to the broad-breasted white).
Most turkeys marketed for Thanksgiving and Christmas consumption are probably broad-breasted white. They (as the name alludes too) have more breast meat due to years of selective breeding. This is a trait that is incredibly sought after by American consumers.
Turkey Labels Dependent Upon Processing/Storing
If you are looking for a turkey that is already injected/marinated, you should look for the label basted/self-basted. This cannot account for more than 3% of the bird’s weight (if it is bone-in) or 8% of the bird’s weight (if boneless) and is comprised of broth, stock, spices etc.
Shoppers who purchase a turkey bird labeled frozen can understand this simply means that the turkey has been stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
If your turkey is labeled fresh this means that your turkey bird is never stored below 26 degrees Fahrenheit.
Shoppers can buy a turkey labeled Natural knowing there’s nothing artificial that is added. This includes but is not limited to artificial coloring, flavoring or any chemical preservatives.
Minimal Processing means your turkey’s processing may have included roasting, smoking or any other process to make it safe to eat or preserve it and/or any processing that does not fundamentally alter the product.
Farmers have different methods, and they help give you freedom of choice at the grocery store. This is also to guarantee that they are the healthiest and safest that they can be!
Have you already bought your turkey for this year? Did you find the labels confusing? Did you pay a premium price for the same product? Drop your answers in the comments below.
With Thanksgiving on the mind, we’re going to be sharing some of our favorite recipes. So far, we’ve shared our green bean casserole recipe and homemade mashed potato recipe. But stick around and you’ll be able to cook your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without a problem even if it’s your first go, we have faith in you!
Thanks for reading!