Sensory Evaluation of Alternative Turkey Genotypes

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2007: $14,962.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Grant Recipient: Appalachian State University
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Anne Fanatico
Appalachian State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: free-range, housing, livestock breeding
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities


    Consumer interest is growing in specialty poultry products including free-range production and alternative turkey products, such as “heritage.” Heritage turkeys are slow-growing, naturally-mating turkeys and are typically raised with outdoor access and without routine medications or animal by-products in the feed. There is interest in sensory attributes of the meat, as well as conservation of livestock breeds/varieties.
    A trial was conducted to assess impact of genotype on yield, meat quality, and sensory attributes. A commercial fast-growing genotype (Fast) and a slow-growing genotype (Slow) (all females) were raised for 14 weeks and approximately 26 weeks, respectively. Placement dates were staggered in order to achieve a similar final body weight on day of processing. Forty turkeys of each genotype were raised on a small commercial farm in a naturally-ventilated house with access to outdoor yards and were provided the same diets. Turkeys were processed at a small facility and stored at 1 C. Sixteen turkeys of each genotype were deboned at 2 d postmortem for meat quality analyses. Descriptive analysis of fresh breast and thigh meat of Fast and Slow turkeys was conducted by a trained panel, while consumer analysis included an additional treatment, a retail turkey (injected with marinade at processing). In addition, a consumer focus group was held to gather data on consumer interest in specialty turkey, and community outreach allowed local participants to learn about specialty turkey and to sample it. In terms of results, carcasses of Fast turkeys were heavier than those of Slow (P < 0.05). Breast yield was higher (P < 0.05) for Fast compared to Slow, while leg yield was higher for Slow (P < 0.05). Breast meat of Slow had lower pH and was less pale and more red than Fast (P < 0.05). The descriptive panel found few differences in flavor of breast meat although Fast had more intense cooked meat flavor and Slow had more intense aftertaste of blood/metal (P < 0.05). The panel found more differences in texture; specifically, breast meat of Slow was more hard, cohesive, and fibrous than Fast (P < 0.05). However, in instrumental (MORS) analysis, Slow was more tender than Fast (P < 0.05). In most categories of consumer trials, Retail and Fast were preferred over Slow, including appearance and texture. For breast meat, the overall liking was higher for Retail than Fast and Slow (P < 0.05), and the liking of flavor was higher for Retail than Slow (P < 0.05). Reasons for buying or planning to buy a specialty turkey that were ranked highest were antibiotic/growth promotant concern, flavor/texture, use of pesticide concern, and nutrients. These data indicate differences in yield, meat quality and sensory attributes between the commercial fast-growing and specialty slow-growing turkeys as well as differences in reasons for purchase.


    Consumers are interested in specialty poultry products including naturally-raised, free-range, organic, and locally-produced. There is particular interest in “heritage” turkeys. Heritage turkeys are slow-growing, naturally-mating turkeys and are typically raised with outdoor access and without routine medications or animal by-products in the feed. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy ( uses a definition for heritage that includes naturally-mating standard varieties, slow growth rate where birds reach market weight in about 28 weeks, and the ability to withstand the environmental rigors of outdoor access.

    In contrast, a fast-growing hybrid turkey is raised indoors in environmentally-controlled housing in conventional turkey production. Because it has been selected for a high breast yield, natural reproduction is difficult for fast-growing turkeys and therefore artificial insemination is used for breeding. Fast-growing turkey genetics are very similar and are called the Broad-Breasted White. At processing, conventional turkey carcasses are usually “pre-basted” or injected with water, salt, phosphates, and spices to help ensure that the breast will not become dry due to overcooking; however, specialty turkeys usually are not pre-basted.

    Turkeys are a livestock species native to the Americas. The wild turkey was domesticated in the Americas and taken to Europe by explorers. Standardized varieties were used in commercial production in the past and therefore have a cultural heritage. They were the forerunners of the fast-growing Broad-breasted White. Many of these standard varieties have historical ties to regions of the country. The Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Black, and Slate were admitted to the American Poultry Association’s The American Standard of Perfection in 1874. The Bourbon Red was admitted in 1909 and the Beltsville Small White was admitted in 1951 (American Poultry Association, 1993).

    Little genetic selection of standard varieties of heritage turkeys has taken place in recent decades; however, Frank Reese in Lindsborg, KS ( has continued the tradition of selecting heritage turkeys for meat production. His Bronze turkeys have pure bloodlines that can be traced back to 1917.

    Consumers buy specialty poultry products for personal health reasons such as a concern about the use of growth promotants or antibiotics in meat production, or pesticides, as well as personal interest such as nutrient/sensory attributes. Consumers may also be interested in animal welfare, the environment, or endangered livestock breed conservation. Anecdotal tastings usually rank heritage turkey high for flavor (McManus, 2007). However, there are few scientific studies on this subject. Therefore, the objective of our study was to determine the impact of genetic type on meat quality and sensory attributes including flavor and texture, and to investigate consumer perceptions.

    Project objectives:

    • Determine impact of genotype on meat quality and sensory attributes of turkeys in specialty poultry production

      Investigate consumer perceptions about specialty turkey meat.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.