You may have noticed that your chicken (at least in the US) has been more flavorful of late.
For decades, the chicken breast has been America’s darling. Now everybody, it seems, is doubling down on thighs.
In the U.S., production is at a record high. Retail sales of thighs have jumped nine-fold in the past decade, and restaurants are buying more dark meat, too, according to Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat processor.
“Consumers’ palates are changing,” said Sabrina Bewley, Tyson’s senior director of food service poultry marketing and innovation. “They seek out more Latin, Indian and East Asian dishes, which often feature dark meat.”
The fate of chicken breasts can be blamed partly on the poultry industry, which created birds so big-chested that some developed a tough, coarse texture that’s come to be known as “woody breast.”
Demand is so high for thighs that prices have eclipsed that of the traditionally more expensive breasts. As of July 10, jumbo boneless, skinless chicken breasts were $1.13 a pound, and the equivalent boneless, skinless thighs were $1.24, according to Russ Whitman, senior vice president at commodity researcher Urner Barry.
It’s a reversal of white meat’s decades-long U.S. market domination. Dark meat has always been more popular abroad, but breasts became the big thing in the U.S. in the 1980s when producers started cutting up birds for the sake of convenience. Before that, consumers bought whole birds, and it was up to home cooks to do the dismembering. White meat caught on because it was lower in fat and perceived to be healthier, while the dark meat was often added to sausage or shipped overseas to other countries…
The dark meat helps form a tasty gravy, and it’s more nutritionally dense, said John Umlauf, the company’s (frozen-food maker Saffron Road) senior vice president of culinary operations.
“The dark meat has more blood in it,” he said. “That’s why it’s juicier. White meat can dry out.”
Historically, thighs were more attractive to frugal shoppers. Now it’s the taste and the ease of preparation.