What Is With Chickens With Woody Breasts

March 31, 2016 22 Comments

Chickens with Woody Breasts

What’s the Story with “Woody Breasted” Chickens

I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal Business section about a new condition with poultry called “Woody Breast”. It seems we are growing our chickens much larger and way faster than ever before.

The article shows a chart describing the average weight of a broiler chicken has gone from about 2.5 pounds in 1925 to 6.4 pounds in 2015. What’s even crazier is how fast it now takes for a chicken to gain a pound compared to around 1925. Would you believe 50 days per pound back then compared to just 7.7 days in 2015?

What Are Woody Breasts?

Chickens is so popular now that producers have been breeding them to grow larger and faster but also to have more breast meat. According to this article, today’s broiler chickens now have breast fillets that are “heavier than the entire bird just a few decades ago. “

If you’ve ever eaten a boneless chicken breast that was harder to chew and much more elastic than you’d expect, it is likely it has this woody breast condition. Another way the meat is described is as “gummy”.

These affected birds are “laced with hard fibers” that are not dangerous for consumption, they just make the chicken breast more difficult to eat and less tasty.  According to one of the experts quoted in the article, only 5% to 10% of boneless chicken breast fillets sold in the world are affected. To me, that means if you buy a lot of chicken, there’s a good chance you’ll purchase one of them more often than you think.

The problem seems to be not from how large they are growing chickens today although I think that is a problem in itself, but how fast they are growing them. From 50 days to 7.7 days to grow a pound, come on, something sounds strange about that.  What the heck are they doing?

What Can Be Done?

The poultry industry is concerned — and they should be. Turns out one producer started getting complaints from their restaurant and retail customers about woody breasts and now have their workers test every piece of boneless skinless breasts for what feels like knots in the meat.

If they find these knots, the breast meat is pulled from the line and “sold at a discount and then further processed or ground” for other uses. Great, now I’ll find it in my chicken sausages.

The real problem is they don’t know what’s causing this “woody breast” condition. Is it how large the chickens are getting? How fast they are growing? Nutrition? Hen-house conditions? Breeds or lack of diversity in breeding?

They can’t tell if a chicken has the condition until it is killed, portioned and deboned so the producers have no way of knowing while the bird is alive. It just may be the breeders have bred these birds to their max size and fastest growth rate. Maybe it’s time to take it back a notch or two and see what happens.

What Can We Do About Woody Breasts?

Not much I suppose. I guess we have to hope the industry figures out why this is happening and does the right thing to fix it. I would encourage anyone who buys chicken breasts at their local market and comes across these conditions to report it to the store they bought it and request a refund.  Not fun to do but it may get the markets to push back on the producers.

You can also try buying meat from local farmers at your farmer’s markets. I’m thinking free range birds might not have the same conditions as the mass produced chickens you purchase at the supermarket.

How about buying smaller birds? The article did not discuss this idea but it may just be true this condition doesn’t affect 6 to 7 pound chickens as it does the 10 pounders.

Just wanted to let you know about this situation that I read about a couple of days ago. If you want to read the article in the Wall Street Journal by Kelsey Gee, click here.

If you like this post and would like to see me write more about what’s going on in the food industry, please drop in a comment below. Thanks



Last modified on Wed 6 April 2016 9:41 am

Filed in: All About Poultry

Comments (22)

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  1. Maggie Anderson says:

    I can’t even find smaller chickens anymore. Rarely can I find a chicken under 6 pounds. And I think this Woody breast issue is worse than these articles say. I’m going to switch to Pork from now on

    • Holly says:

      I KNEW there was something ,,” off ” about the chicken I have been buying lately ! Even if it is marinated it seems tough 😠

  2. C Morgan says:

    I bought chicken fillets at my local Tesco..one of them felt like rubber..was hard to slice and horrible to chew….I emailed head office. but it’s not the first time I’ve bought one like that…didn’t know what it was till I saw this web site…it’s put me right off chicken..maybe if customers stopped buying chicken …the suppliers might do something about it…we don’t know what we’re eating…keep up the good work

  3. Jesse Sutter says:

    Run a restaurant, I would guess it’s more like 75-80% of the bulk chicken breast we get. It’s crap and basically unservable

  4. Chris Anderson says:

    I would like to avoid this chicken, is there some way to spot it before I bring it home? I have encountered this “woody chicken breast” several times and we can’t afford to just throw it away!

    • Chris, from what I’ve read, there is no way to tell by looking at it. I think the best way to avoid it is first, do some research on the Internet for brands with the least amount of woody breasts reported. Second, I would complain to your market and if you are so inclined to do so, bring back the woody chicken meat and tell them you are not happy. If more people let their markets know about their displeasure, maybe something will be done about it. Third, I would see if there are any Farmer’s Markets selling local free range chickens. I have no idea if these birds have less probability to develop into woody chickens but I would think so. And lastly, anything you learn on your quest to stop woody chicken breasts, please share with me.

      • Ana McGuire says:

        I am now assuming every huge chicken breast in a pack is going to be a woody breast. I am a meat scientist, and a mom, and this bothers me so much! Almost to the point that I am now hesitant to buy chicken breasts. So, I’m opting more for turkey, and lean pork and beef cuts. The very chewy texture of cooked chicken breast is just bad. Other parts of the chicken are fine. I was thinking maybe is I cut the chicken breast against the grain (transversally to the muscle fibers orientation) the rubbery texture would decrease, and that with margination may help. I’d have to tray that! Also, roasted chicken from grocery stores tend to be smaller broilers, so I have not noticed the woody breast in those. Perhaps also the cooking method helps improve the texture.

    • Darlene Faldyn says:

      I have bought a few bad packages and it seems to happen with the packages only breasts or sliced breasts. The whole split birds I have bought have not had this problem. So buy the whole!

  5. Cathy Hammers says:

    I just learned of the term “Woody Breast”, but I’ve notice for awhile now that the breasts have a bad steak like consistency and are extremely horrible to eat. (I usually eat the tenders if I eat chicken at all now a days) This has been going on quite awhile and it seems no matter where I purchased the breasts or what brand, they all were of the woody texture. I think the problem is the companies genetically engineering the chickens to be larger with bigger breasts. I saw a show on conditions in one of the facilities and the poor birds with such large breasts couldn’t even stand on their own legs! The big producers as I see in reading the articles are trying to downplay the problem by saying it’s a lower percentage than what it really is that is affected but they are wrong. They know what the problem is! They are just trying to find ways now NOT to cut into their bottom line!

  6. marybeth says:

    The only thing I have found to do is to (1) soak in baking soda and water for 20 minutes, remove the membranes, then (2) pressure cook with carrot/onion/celery and spices at 10# for 45 minutes. When that is done I (3) grind the chicken.

    From there I can make croquettes or breaded chicken burgers, or chicken salad.

    • Melanie Smith says:

      @marybeth. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. I tried this with some woody chicken breast. They were so tender after pressure cooking and shred so easily! And that woody texture is gone!

  7. HLBlair says:

    I was just commenting to my mother that as large as the roasted, whole chickens at our local Sam’s are, there must be some with woody breast syndrome but the long roasting could be one work around. The slow cooking process could breakdown the fibers. Tonight I’m trying some tricks I learned when I worked in a Chinese restaurant in college: baking soda soak, pounding then cutting into slivers. Also wondered if a slow long poaching might work.

  8. HLBlair says:

    Take one of the offending breast, butterflying it, then slicing it along the grain into chunky strips. Soak the chunky strips in a cornstarch/egg white velveting solution for 20 minutes. Stirfry half way cooked and finish cooking in a simmering sauce till done. Worked really well.

  9. marie piervincenti says:

    I’ve switched to organic. The texture of the chicken breast completely turned me off. When I saw that the breasts were almost the size of turkey breasts I stopped buying them because I knew the quality was going nowhere but down. Pricey but worth it. I don’t even like the beef in supermarkets anymore either. Unfortunately I spend more money for less food and eat lots of veggies.

  10. Terry Wall says:

    This has become an ongoing pain-in-the-you-know-where!! I’ve tried griling, roasting, pan frying…NOTHING can help the dreaded woody breast, though I haven’t tried a crock pot or other type of slow cooker yet. Like others on this thread, I’ll probably resort to free-range chicken, because the larger chicken producers won’t change a damn thing. Like Cathy Hammers says, they know EXACTLY what they’re doing and for them, it’s–as always–about the $$$$$.

  11. M. Francisco says:

    I stopped buying chicken breast in general after a few run-ins with woody ones. It’s really gross. I have just stayed with chicken tenderloins and am fine just paying a little more.

  12. Glenna Hall says:

    I cooked a whole bag of frozen chicken breasts and when I went to cut them up for a salad, I came across a “capsule” looking brown thing in the middle of one. It was so gross, I would have returned the chicken to the market but had thrown away the bag. My son said I should have taken a picture of it. What a waste.

  13. S says:

    I buy my meat from a local butcher and have had this issue a few times recently. I didn’t know what it was until I googled it today. I’m tenderizing it right now to see if that works. Will probably have to stop buying breast meat.

  14. Mdriver says:

    I have had this chicken a lot lately. I am wasting so much money. Because I usually don’t eat it and throw it away. They really need to figure this out or I may never eat chicken again. It does not feel right when eating it. Rubbery and just weird… I get it from fast food and all brands in the grocery. It’s hit or miss. But the fast food places usually always have it. They probably get it at a discounted rate. Something needs to be done soon.

  15. Deb V says:

    I’ve suspected this has been a problem for years. Always wondered if it had something to do with hormones and other drugs used to enhance growth. I won’t buy chicken at the grocery store anymore. I’ve started buying at a local butcher shop. My gosh what a difference. And it’s not that much more expensive. The breasts and thighs are so soft and juicy.

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