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Plumped Chickens: You Are Paying for Water

plumped1If a butcher puts his thumb on the scale, you wind up paying for meat you never actually receive. 

Some chicken producers are now doing something similar when processing their chicken. On the left is a typical package of chicken you might find in any supermarket. It says “100% natural” breasts (with some rib meat).  You expect there to be nothing but chicken in the package in all likelihood. However, look at the fine print disclosure:


*MOUSE PRINT: “with up to 15% natural chicken broth.”  What’s that?  Primarily salt and water.  So you are really paying $3.99 a pound for the water that comprises 15% of the package weight.

Current labeling law still allows the chicken to be labeled “all natural” because water and salt are natural ingredients, irrespective of the fact that they are being injected into the birds to make them weigh more.

Makers of plumped chickens say the extra water and salt help make the chicken more moist and tender. While that may be true, they are not eager to tell you that a four-ounce serving of enhanced chicken may have eight times the chicken’s normal sodium content — equivalent to the salt in a large serving of fast food french fries.

For more information on plumped chickens, here is a recent LA Times article, a video on the plumping process from CBS News, and Foster Farms’ wonderfully clever website, “Say No to Plumping“.

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8 thoughts on “Plumped Chickens: You Are Paying for Water”

  1. I bought this brand at Sams Club thinking what a good deal on whole chickens and we ended up throwing out most of it. The meat itself was very tough. Perhaps from the salt added? Reminded me of the old stewing hens my mom was always buying to save money.

  2. I have been steaming over this for years. I want chicken. Not chicken with rib meat or chicken with water and salt. Chicken is chicken is chicken. I really have to search to find it truly natural. The texture is just disgusting when it’s not.

  3. @Julie Snow: The “rib meat” is still chicken – it’s on the label because the package is labeled “chicken breasts”, and it’s virtually impossible to cut off a bone-in chicken breast without getting some rib meat along with it. Since that means there’s something other than chicken breasts is in the package, they’re legally bound to add the “with rib meat”.

    I can see the utility in having the added broth if I were just cooking the breasts to eat by themselves, but 90% of the the time when I have chicken, it’s in a sauce and/or mixed with a bunch of other ingredients, and I doubt many recipes account for the chicken already being salty.

    By the way, the “injected with a flavoring solution” thing is also fairly common with pork.

  4. This has been going on for years, and many are on the bandwagon. You HAVE to read the labels. For example, Maple Leaf Duck, a product from Canada which I have purchased before NOW is injected. Pork, beef, you name it. Full of salt and water for which we are paying in terms of money AND our health. They claim the “injection” makes meat tender. I remember chickens my mother roasted 30 years ago – they were tender and tasty withouth added junk. And, they TASTED LIKE CHICKEN. Ms Snow is right – the texture of this newfangled fowl IS disgusting.

  5. It’s not just added water you have to worry about. There’s a movie out now, “Food, Inc.” that anyone who shops for food in America should see. It got a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from the top critics. Trailer on the website: http://www.foodincmovie.com/
    P.S. I’m not a spammer or connected with the movie, it’s just important to know about what we are eating.

  6. There is another health risk with these chickens besides the increased sodioum. Many manufacturers are also injecting carrageenan along with the salt water. Carrageenan is a thickener that is made from dried bleached red seaweed. It is being used in many dairy and meat products to disguise the fact that they are being watered down. Some people have a bad reaction to it and experience nausea and abdominal pain after eating it. My 4 year old daugher was incorrectly diagnosed with lactose intolerance and then IBS before I figured out this additive was causing the problem. Removing it from her diet cleared her symptoms. I have to check labels every time I purchase something because it shows up in a suprising number of products, and something will be okay one week, and have it in it the next.

    If you want to find out more about it check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrageenan#Health_concerns and google carrageenan ibs

  7. How long has ‘Plumping’ been commonly used?

    If it is a relatively new practice it means that all of those fast-food nutritional guides are likely outdated. Jeez, you get a chicken sandwich at a fast food place and unknowingly get an additional load of unexpected sodium. It’s not like they don’t already add sodium to the sauce or in preparing the chicken.

  8. I used to wonder why the chicken in dishes served at mediocre-to-nice restaurants always tasted so inferior to what I could make at home. There was this fake “rubbery” or “plastic” texture and flavor I couldn’t ever quite place. Then one day I bought a branded “Value Pack” of fresh boneless/skinless breasts to make Chicken Piccata, and suddenly that familiar “institutional” flavor was on my dinner table. Checked the label, which read, “Injected with up to 15% of a sodium/calcium phosphate solution”

    So, please note that it isn’t always just broth or saline that gets used in “plumping”. Phosphoric acid (H3PO4) is a weak acid; hence, phosphate salts are appreciably alkaline in water. Alkali “tenderizes” the meat–which is to say, it turns a good compact chicken breast into a mushy, rubbery lump which tastes like plastic and takes longer to cook owing to the heat capacity of all that added water. Double YUCK.

    I check the label now, every time. If it doesn’t say “minimally processed”, I pass, or head for the butcher’s counter for decent meat (and pay thru the nose for it).

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