Chicken breeders are stumped by a new condition called woody breast.
It’s becoming a worrisome issue for processing companies that want larger birds for larger portions of breast meat.
As growers raise broilers to heavier weights, this new concern has arisen and neither scientists nor breeders have been able to identify a solution.
Wooden breast fillets have been shown to have a lower water binding capacity as measured by marinade uptake, retention, cook loss and overall yield, report scientists from Texas and Arkansas.
Because of keen demand for white breast meat, more than half of broilers raised in the United States reach a market weight of more than six pounds and a quarter of them top 7.5 pounds.
The trend to bigger birds is expected to continue.
Woody breast is defined as breast muscle that is hard to the touch, bulging in appearance and often pale in colour.
However, the sarcomeres (basic contractile unit of muscle) are actually longer in hard, "woody" fillets compared with typical carcasses, which indicates that their state of contraction is less than the contractile state in normal fillets.
Consumer panels do not describe the meat as any tougher, but do call it “rubbery” and “stringy”.
“The textural attributes of woody breast are complex, going beyond traditional toughness issues usually surrounding broiler meat. This complexity has yet to be fully determined,” the researchers say.
Consumers in the food-service industry have complained about the quality of woody-breast chicken.