History and rearing of chicken
Chicken is the omnipresent food of our age, quickly crossing several cultural borders. Chicken, with its mild taste and uniform texture, provides an intriguingly blank canvas for almost every cuisine’s flavour palette. Chicken remains a nostalgic, evocative dish around the world long after the time when most families had a few hens running around the yard that could be picked and made into dinner.
How did the chicken gain such dominance in cultural and culinary terms? In view of the assumption by many historians that chickens were first domesticated not for eating but for cockfighting, it is all the more shocking. The economic and nutritional contribution of chickens was modest until the advent of large-scale industrial production in the 20th century. Nevertheless, over the centuries, the chicken has inspired contributions to history, literature, cuisine, science and religion. In certain cultures, chickens were, and still are, a sacred animal. A worldwide emblem of nurturance and fertility, the prodigious and ever-watchful hen was. To guarantee a bountiful river flood, eggs were hung in Egyptian temples. The lusty rooster was a universal signifier of virility, but also a benevolent spirit that crowed at dawn to signal a turning point in the celestial battle between darkness and light in the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. The chicken’s killer app was fortune telling for the Romans, particularly during wartime. Roman armies were followed by chickens, and their conduct before battle was carefully observed; a good appetite meant victory was probable.
The truth is that, especially when bred and trained for battle, the male of the species can be quite a fierce animal. Nature equipped the rooster with a bony leg spur; with an arsenal of metal spurs and small knives strapped to the bird ‘s leg, humans have augmented that function. It appears to be the oldest continuing sport in parts of the world where cockfighting is still practiced, legally or illegally. There are creative representations of rooster warriors spread all over the ancient world.
Cultural encounters, trade, migration and territorial conquest culminated in their introduction, and reintroduction, to various regions around the world over several thousand years after chickens were domesticated. While inconclusive, evidence indicates that the Indus Valley, where the city-states of the Harappan civilization carried on a lively trade with the Middle East more than 4,000 years ago, may have been ground zero for the bird’s westward expansion. Chicken bones from Lothal, once a major port on the west coast of India, have been retrieved by archaeologists, raising the likelihood that the birds may have been transported as cargo or supplies across the Arabian Peninsula.
About 250 years later, chickens appeared in Egypt as battle birds and additions to exotic menageries. The royal tombs were decorated with artistic representations of birds. Yet 1,000 years before the bird became a common commodity among ordinary Egyptians, it would be another. It was in that period that the Egyptians perfected the artificial incubation process, which freed hens from laying more eggs to put their resources to better use.
Archaeological digs across the Mediterranean have discovered chicken bones from about 800 B.C .. Among the Romans, chickens were a delicacy whose culinary inventions included the omelette and the method of stuffing birds for frying, while their recipes tended more than bread crumbs towards mashed chicken brains. Farmers started to develop bird fattening techniques, some used wheat bread soaked in wine, while others swore by a blend of cumin seeds, barley and lizard fat. The authorities banned these activities at one point. In the Roman Republic, out of concern regarding moral degradation and the pursuit of unnecessary luxury, a statute in 161 B.C. Chicken intake was limited to one per meal, probably for the entire table, not per person, and only if the bird had not been overfed. The sensible Roman cooks soon noticed that castrating roosters caused them to fatten on their own, and the creature we know as the capon was therefore born.
A continent full of native turkeys and ducks for plucking and eating was discovered by Europeans coming to North America. Some historians claim that Polynesians, who reached the Pacific coast of South America a century or so before Columbus’s voyages, first brought chickens to the New World. Chickens, though valued, particularly as a source of eggs, played a relatively minor role in the American diet and economy well into the 20th century. Chicken production was still mostly a casual, local enterprise long after cattle and hogs had reached the modern age of organized, mechanized slaughterhouses. Fortifying feed with antibiotics and vitamins, which allowed chickens to be raised indoors, was the breakthrough that made possible today’s quarter-million-bird farms. Chickens require sunlight to synthesize vitamin D on their own, like most animals, and so they usually spent their days roaming around the barnyard in the first decades of the 20th century, pecking for food. Now, in an atmosphere designed to present the minimum of distractions from the critical eating company, they could be shielded from weather and predators and fed a regulated diet. Factory farming represents the final step in the transformation of chicken into a product that provides protein. Hens are crammed into wire cages so tightly (less than half a square foot per bird) that they cannot spread their wings; in windowless houses, as many as 20,000 to 30,000 broilers are crowded together.
The outcome has been a massive supply-side gastro-economics experiment: growing quantities of chicken provided by factory farms have called for growing demand. Chicken had surpassed beef as the most common meat by the beginning of the 1990s. In a system designed to turn grain into protein with staggering performance, modern chickens are cogs.
There was more of a trend toward natural , organic birds and eggs during the 1990s. Perdue ‘s company marketed the first antibiotic-free chickens. Animal care and rights have come to the public’s attention. By 1992, the highest selling product, surpassing pork and beef, was chicken.
There are millions of laying birds in the world today, with billions of eggs a year and chicken being the world’s second most consumed meat.
More recent ‘streamlining’ of birds has led to such birds as the Golden Comet being produced. The Comet is a large layer of eggs, but it’s not considered a healthy meat bird. After the second year, the high volume of eggs slows down, so the birds are usually killed and replaced.
Many turned to self-sufficiency or learning more about it with the coronavirus pandemic spreading around the globe. And chickens are one of the first animals that people introduce to their artillery for homesteading.
Over the past five years, full-force backyard chicken owners have come into being. Task forces to support city chicken-keeping have jumped on the scene, and with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, hatcheries have seen their chick orders triple.
Nutritional benefits of chicken
- It’s a great source of lean, low fat protein that contributes to the growth and development of muscles. The protein also helps to promote a healthy weight for the body and promotes weight loss.
- Good for the heart. Eating chicken breast suppresses and regulates the levels of homocysteine amino acids in the body, which can contribute to cardiovascular disease if too high.
- It is rich in phosphorus, an important mineral that supports the function of your teeth and bones, as well as the function of your kidney , liver, and central nervous system.
- It is selenium abundant. It provides this important mineral that helps with thyroid, hormone, metabolism, and immune function involved in metabolic success.
- Vitamin B6 (or B-complex vitamins) in chicken can maintain healthy blood vessels, high energy levels, and calorie burning metabolism to sustain a healthy weight.
- It is rich in niacin and helps protect against cancer and other types of genetic (DNA) damage.
- If you feel depressed, eating some poultry will raise the levels of serotonin amino acid in your brain, boost your mood, increase stress, and lull you to sleep.
- An excellent source of retinol, alpha and beta-carotene, and lycopene (both derived from vitamin A) and all essential for good eyesight, promotes eye health.
- Riboflavin (or Vitamin B2), found in chicken livers, is necessary for healthy tissue. It can significantly reduce your skin problems and restore dry or damaged skin.
- If you are approaching your senior years and you are worried about osteoporosis or arthritis, eating chicken will help with the protein punch it packs in your battle against bone loss!
As with any other chicken, organic or free-range chicken has the same nutrients. And there is no guarantee that organic chickens are safer from contamination than non-organic.
But these free-range chicken definitely don’t have the same amount of antibiotics as other chickens. To encourage faster growth and avoid infection in crowded quarters, some growers give antibiotics to chickens. Less use of antibiotics decreases the risk of emerging antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, and chicken raised in this way encourages more sustainable food production methods.
Versatility of chicken as an ingredient
Chicken is the most versatile meat. It can be prepared with a range of seasonings, toppings, and sauces in several ways — roasted, grilled, or poached, in soups , stews, and potpies. No wonder chicken is a staple in almost every culture’s cuisine. Easy roast chicken is a favourite in America. Chicken is sautéed with onions, mushrooms and wine in Italy, serving alla cacciatore. The Spaniards blend chicken and rice to make paella.
Chicken’s graded by quality. The chickens you find on the USDA grade market are likely to be grade A. Smaller grade B and C chickens are typically sold to food producers for use in processed and packaged goods.
Grade A birds are meaty, well-shaped, feather-free, fat-free. The skin must be unbroken, cuts, tears, bruises, or blemishes. A chicken with a wounded wing could cut off the wing and be graded Grade C, but if the rest of the bird were of better quality, it would be cut and parts sold as Grade A.
Chicken is classified into age-and-sex groups. Tiny, young chickens’ meat is typically leaner than larger birds.
Broiler / fryers: The most popular type of chicken, broiler / fryers are 6-8 weeks old and weigh 2 1/2-5 pounds. It’s meaty, tender, all-purpose birds. These chickens can be roasted, grilled, poached, steamed, or sautéed as well as broiled and fried. However, they aren’t a good stewing option as their meat becomes dry and stringy.
Capons: These chickens are surgically castrated. At a young age, this activity results in large birds, so meat stays tender. They are usually slaughtered at 15-16 weeks and weigh 9 1/2-10 1/2 pounds. Capons have a large proportion of white meat, but a dense layer of fat under the skin, making white meat fatier than other chickens. Capon’s finest fried.
Roasters: These chickens are a little older than broiler / fryers. They are normally advertised when they are 3-5 months old and weigh 3 1/2-6 pounds. Roasters have tender, sweet beef. They can be grilled, braised, or stewed.
Rock Cornish hens: Formed in the 1800s in the U.S. by crossing a Cornish gamecock with the White Plymouth Rock chicken, Rock Cornish hens weigh 3/4 to 2 pounds — the ideal size to serve one human, but a 2-pound bird might serve two. These plump-breasted birds are very low in weight, and are normally sold at age 5 or 6. Occasionally, you can find them new, but they’re always frozen. Rock Cornish hens are usually stuffed and fried, but they may also be broiled, braised, grilled or sautéed.
Stewing chickens: These adult hens are typically 12 months old, weighing 4-6 pounds. Their meat is tasty yet strong, making them excellent candidates to stew, brais and stock.
Chicken parts: A large portion of chicken is bought cut as parts. You may buy whole or half breasts in, or boneless, skinless breast fillets of chicken. Drumsticks are also sold separately. Baked, broiled, fried or sautéed chicken breasts. Drumsticks may be fried, broiled, or grilled.
Free-range chickens: these are not caged chickens, like most chickens. Some people believe free-range chickens have a better taste because they grow their muscles. Free-range chickens are generally slaughtered at a young age, so the meat stays tender. But they’re no more nutritious than other chickens, and can come at a premium price. They are also processed in the same way as other chickens and are thus just as vulnerable to Salmonella contamination.
Kosher chicken: according to Jewish dietary law, kosher birds are slaughtered, plucked without hot water, eviscerated, and their organs inspected. Cleaned birds, once licensed, are salted to draw blood. Contamination can occur when the chickens are plucked. Salting can kill some Salmonella and other bacteria, but birds are not salted long enough to kill all bacteria causing disease. According to one study, salt used in koshering can also increase sodium content—500 milligrams of sodium in 8 ounces of kosher chicken meat versus 150 milligrams in non-kosher. This may be important if you’re on a low-sodium diet. Some kosher farmers, however, say to wash birds to eliminate excess sodium.
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