With the ever-growing requirement for quick and easy food options that are cost effective, what are the differences between different varieties of chicken breast and why do they vary so much in price? “Is it ok to eat at Nando’s? It’s just chicken right?”.
Granted, eating a grilled chicken breast is better than the deep fat fried option. However, more thought should be given to the many steps that precede a fillet steak on your plate in a restaurant or a chicken breast packaged on the shelf in your local supermarket.
The nutrient quality and taste of meat and meat products from eggs, dairy, chicken breasts and beef steaks through to beef mince and beef burgers, starts with the breed of the animal, the animals living conditions, its life duration and the animals nutrition. However, due to increasing demands for high volumes of cheap meat, the farming industry has had to evolve to enable their supplies to meet the demands of the consumer. For this to happen, the industry must be able to produce bigger animals, quicker, and in much higher numbers, whilst also increasing their efficiency and reducing their overheads such as costs on land space, feed for the animals and water costs.
Many commercial meat sellers and restaurants/fast food outlets use crossbred animals which allow them to grow bigger and quicker, so that they can be slaughtered earlier, whilst still producing a high volume of meat. Organic, free range farms that rear chickens for meat consumption allow their chickens to mature at a slower rate.
As with humans, animals are affected by the food and nutrients that they consume. So the feed that is given to a chicken, lamb or cow directly affects the quality and nutrient composition of the meat that we, the consumer, ingests. Poultry and livestock fed a diet with grass, insects and herbs grown in good quality soil, will produce eggs and meat that have higher levels of good quality fats, lower levels of poor quality fats, and much higher concentrations of many important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Where possible, grass fed animals should be chosen over corn or grain fed animals. Grass fed is a more expensive way to feed animals which is why cheaper meats and those used in certain restaurants and fast food chains tend to use hybrid breeds that are corn fed and factory housed.
High quality meat and animal products that are free range and/or organic do have much more favourable nutrient contents and are much more ethical in terms of animal welfare. The obvious issue with this is that they are more expensive. In the case of meat and animal products, quality matters and costs tend to reflect quality. If a beef burger costs 99p or you can buy a chicken burger meal with fries and a drink for less than £5 you can guarantee that the meat you are consuming is not a high quality variety and the animal welfare will have been compromised either in its life and/or as it was slaughtered. These factors should be considered when choosing the meat you purchase in supermarkets and which restaurants you eat from. Make a small amount of high quality meat go further by combining the meat with protein rich plant based foods to cut costs without compromising on quality.