Will A Chicken That's Fed Lemons Taste Like Lemons?

09 يوليو 2020
Will A Chicken That's Fed Lemons Taste Like Lemons?

A lemon-ginger chicken sounds perfect! Oh, just wait a second. Is this feasible in the scientific sense

First of all, basic question: does what you eat impact your flavor? The answer, of course, is a general one

What an animal eats affects its fat: how much of it is, what texture it is, where it is and, yes, how it tastes. "Some compounds end up in the fat," says Dr. Annie King of the Department of Animal Science at the University of California at Davis. "That's where you get a lot of flavor from." But not all the flavors that the animal eats will be transported into the flavor of meat. Some compounds are water-soluble, such as salts, and others will be metabolized by the organs of the animal before they ever make it into the tissue or fat. But some fat-soluble, volatile flavor compounds mostly survive unscathed through the digestion process and make their way into the animal's body's fat cells

So, can you impart specific flavors by feeding specific things to the animal

The challenge of altering the feed with flavoring meat is that many of the strongest flavors such as lemon flavour, say, are micronutrients that can't make up most of the diet of an animal. If any portion of feed, such as corn, constitutes most of the diet of an animal during its lifetime, that will certainly flavor the meat. But lemons will never make up a large portion of an animal's diet. These flavorful micro nutrients could actually be harmful in large quantities.

Let's look at some examples

The famous black Iberian pig, raised for the world-famous jamon iberico, a cured ham, is permitted to freely move  in Spain's forests, chowing down  on acorns. This pig is noted for its beautifully marbled flesh, meaning it has a remarkably high fat content which is interlaced throughout the skeletal muscle — it's called intramuscular fat — instead of in clumps. The acorn-heavy diet has some important effects on their weight, coupled with the fact that the pigs are highly active in their quest for acorns. The pig has very soft fat, low in rigid collagen, making it suitable for unheated preparations such as ham. And the fat has very high levels of omega-3 fats and oleate, especially after the curing and drying process

Corns, like most nuts, are rich in fat but the details of how they are metabolized are not well known. Using pancreatic lipase, an enzyme secreted by the pancreas, as the pig consumes the acorns the small intestine breaks down the fat in the acorns. That fat is decomposed into a few parts (ethanol, free fatty acids , glycerol) so that these components pass through the intestinal wall. They turn back into a version of their old shape once they're past the wall, called a natural triglyceride. Such triglycerides are distributed across the body via the bloodstream, where they can be used for a whole host of different tasks  some will be used as energy, some will add cholesterol, and some will simply stay as fats and plop into fatty tissues. Acorn fat performs far more of the latter function, we believe, than most other pig feed. This study shows that Iberian pigs' intestinal functions are not very different from any other breed — the only major difference, then, is what they eat


As the names indicate, oleic acid is generally associated with olive oil which is an omega-9 fatty acid. "When [meat] is higher in oleic acid, people appear to prefer the flavor," says Stephen Smith of the Animal Science Department at Texas A&M. Research shows rats tend to prefer foods that are rich in oleic acid. Pigs eating with the other foods, such as corn and soybeans, have lower oleic acid levels, and lower fat levels, generally, than pigs feeding acorns. The rich fatty marbling of an Iberian pig does not have your usual factory-farm-raised pig

The Iberian pigs don't taste like acorns, even so; the high tannin levels in acorns are said to give the pig a certain flavor, but so far no blind tests have been able to prove a tannic flavor to the pig. The method of metabolizing these foods is extremely complicated; flavor compounds are much more sensitive than the fatty acids within the acorns, and are likely to be broken down or changed on their trip through the pig's digestive system. The fatty acids, however, find their way unharmed to be processed in fatty tissue. Besides, the tannic flavor comes from a particular compound and the pig isn't getting enough of that compound in its diet for the pork to taste bitter

Cows, like the Iberian pigs, mainly eat one kind of feed. Meat cows in this country are often described as either corn-fed or grass-fed (though some are grass-fed and finished on corn)

This 1990 research performed a lot of surveys in the Journal of Animal Science to find out if people could tell a difference in taste between corn-fed and grass-fed beef. The analysis made sure the fat content and texture of the two samples were identical, and then fed them to testers. The result? The grass-fed beef was found to have a "grassy" or "milky-oily" taste, which the testers, accustomed to corn fed beef, found less desirable than the "beefy" flavor of corn-fed meat. Diving further into the different experiments, it seems like there are an variety of flavor volatile in the grass-fed meat that aren't present in the corn-fed; a chemical called phyt-2 ene, for example, was associated with a grassy taste. Other compounds, including diacetyl, 2- and 3-pentandione, octane, hexanal, 1-hexanol, and octanal were found to be associated with the "beefy" taste in corn-fed beef. When the researchers contaminated the grass-fed beef with some of those "beefy" chemicals, they found that the testers could no longer discern the difference between the grass-fed and corn-fed beef

Meat animals are often fed fish oil as a dietary supplement, which has been shown to increase joint and organ health. Farms, both factory and not, have a vested interest in maintaining their animals at least at a certain level of health; an animal that dies of natural causes is of no benefit to anyone, and fish oil is a cheap way to improve the health of an animal. Yet fish oil is highly pungent, and animals fed fish oil prefer to taste ... fishy. We already have a chicken of the sea; no need to make a chicken that tastes like it's from the sea. Fish oil is a micro nutrient, but a spectacularly effective one; it's easily fat soluble and its flavor compounds tend to be strong enough to withstand the metabolizing process, and the animal doesn't need to have all that much of it for the taste compounds to alter the examination of its flesh

Fish oil isn't the only flavored oil; other kinds of nut oils (walnut, peanut) are also high in flavor. But it does not appear that anyone has ever tried to feed a chicken peanut oil to see if it tastes like peanuts. There isn't really any need to; unlike fish oil, peanut oil doesn't have any especially farm-friendly benefits, and at least one study actually suggested that peanut oil clogs the arteries of certain animals (this research was performed with rabbits)

So, sometimes feed has an obvious impact on taste, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it has an unpredictable impact! Say you feed chickens a lot of garlic. You 'd expect the chickens to taste like garlic, right? Okay, no. Turns out, thanks to this research, that the chemicals in garlic reduce the sulfur content of chicken eggs. And not only did the chickens not taste like garlic — they generally tasted milder than chickens who weren't fed garlic

How about the lemon chicken? Okay, lemon's flavor is mostly in its peel. The active ingredients that give lemons their flavor are called limonoids, and they are harmful in high doses. This study found that high doses of d-limonene, a form of limonoid, the main flavor compound that tastes "lemony" or "citrusy" to us, promotes cancer in rats. chicken owners don't suggest you give your chicken citrus — most don't like it, and it's believed that it adversely affects egg-laying — but more to the issue, to dramatically raise the concentration of edible limonoids in the chicken's meat, you 'd almost definitely have to feed them a lethal dose. Grass-fed beef appears grassy, yes, but that's all the cow eats. For a supplement to have the same effect, you 'd have to give the animal an awful lot of it — and you really don't want to give an animal an awful lot of a semi-toxic material

This isn't something that's been researched in greater detail; we 're taking some informed guesses here. I talked to a few meat science and animal science experts, and they were all sort of confused by the issue. "I don't think the research has ever been conducted, in a scientifically monitored trial," Dr. King told me. To really work this one out, you 'd need a pretty complex experiment, feeding animals various quantities of volatile flavor compounds. You 'd need a team of professional testers to eat all these chickens and tell you which, if any, of the chickens actually has a lemony taste. Nobody's done it yet 

Yet our understanding, having heard about how flavors are metabolized, is that you can't safely feed a chicken enough lemons to make it taste like lemons. Only adding a few lemons to a chicken's feed won't have any effect on its taste