Yellow Chicken

By Julie Etra

The people I have spoken with are in 100% agreement that Mexican chickens are much more flavorful than chickens from the United States (can’t speak for Canada or Europe) and I have a hard time adjusting when I return, even with the ‘free-range’ organic versions. The skin is also a lot yellower than what I am used to; there is a lot of misinformation out there on why they are so much yellower than what we see up north. The yellowness is a result of carotenoids, organic pigments, being absorbed by the skin.

Human beings have always shown preference for particular food colors, varying among cultures. Apparently skin color in broiler chickens is no exception (M. P. Castañeda, M./P E. M. Hirschler, and A. R. Sams. Skin Pigmentation Evaluation in Broilers Fed Natural and Synthetic Pigment, Department of Poultry Science Texas A&M University College Station Texas 77843-2472). The authors state that “The typical, corn and soybean-based commercial poultry diet does not supply the necessary amount and type of xanthophylls- a type of carotenoid) to produce the deep yellow skin that is preferred by many consumers. Marigold meals and concentrates have been most widely accepted for commercial use in poultry feeds”. Their research indicates that natural pigments are more effective than synthetic products in producing this color.

In addition a genetic mutation, most likely as a result of breeding, has produced a type of chicken that allows more deposition of yellow carotenoid in the skin. Results of this study surprisingly showed that the yellow skin ‘…does not originate from the red junglefowl, the presumed sole wild ancestor of the domestic chicken, but most likely from the closely related grey junglefowl. This is the first conclusive evidence for a hybrid origin of the domestic chicken…,’ and sheds light on animal husbandry. Chickens have been domesticated for at least 4,000 years.

So as the saying goes you are what you eat… to an extent. The more yellow carotenoid the yellower the skin. According to Professor Leif Andersson, who directed the project “What we don’t know is why humans bred this characteristic. Maybe chickens with bright yellow legs were seen as being healthier or more fertile than other chickens, or were we simply charmed by their distinct appearance.

” Back to genetics. In another study ‘…scientists believe that the same gene may well be of significance in explaining the pink color of the flamingo, the yellow leg color of many birds of prey, and the reddish meat of the salmon. These characteristics are all caused by carotenoid. The gene may also influence the skin color of humans to some extent.’ So a it’s a combination of genes and diet that makes them taste so finger licking good!

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