For most people, purchasing a whole turkey is not a common event; some consumers only buy this item once or twice a year. Thus, it is no surprise that there can be some confusion over the labeling of these large birds at the grocery store.
With Thanksgiving coming up, this confusion can lead to overspending in an attempt to make the holiday more special. Knowing the difference between labels can help people avoid this issue.
Frozen: This is perhaps the most common label in most grocery stores. That is because frozen turkeys have the longest shelf life. However, the process of freezing the product does negatively affect the taste, according to the Fort Bend Herald. This label applies to birds that have been cooled after processed to a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Since, most whole turkeys are not found in the freezer section of the market, they may also be labeled as “Previously Frozen”, but the process is still the same.
Fresh: Turkeys that have never been chilled below a temperature of 26 degrees Fahrenheit are labeled “Fresh”. The National Turkey Federation states that because turkeys do not freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit like water, but instead at around 26 degrees. This means the meat will not be as tough as birds labeled “Frozen”. They are also more convenient in the cooking process because they do not need time to thaw, but they do tend to cost more and have a shorter life span in the freezer or refrigerator.
Heritage: These turkeys are most likely not in supermarkets. Most heritage turkeys must be pre-ordered by local farms where they are raised. They are different from the common sold turkeys that are the Broad-Breasted White breed bird. Heritage breeds include Bourbon Red, Narragansett and the Jersey Bluff. They tend to have a gamier flavor and more dark meat than normal turkeys. Some culinary experts say that they are much more flavorful than commercial turkeys.
Young Turkey: A turkey that is less than eight months old is considered “young”, even though turkeys mature by four or five months. The birds are smaller than usual and thus they take less time to cook. They also tend to be juicier than older, larger birds. Of course, they also feed less people and can cost more than regular turkeys.
Self-basting or basting turkeys: This label refers to turkeys which have been injected with chemicals approved by the USDA and FDA. These turkeys can be heavier and have different cooking instructions than other turkeys. These solutions are usually flavor enhancers of sodium based. It is matter of taste preference, but some believe these self-basting turkeys are too salty.
There are also premium labels which can mean different things depending on the company they were processed by. Cost-conscious consumers should not be discouraged; the method used in cooking turkeys can be just as vital if not more so in achieving the best flavor.