Chicken breast is one of the proteins I use most often because it is easy to cook. I grab a family-sized pack whenever I go to the grocery store. When I do, I’ve always noticed that the chicken breasts in the cold case have various degrees of white lines that run across the meat. I’ve also seen some headlines about those stripes: What is it? Should I avoid them?
Like me, if you’ve ever wondered if you should skip breasts with visible white striping or if you should cut it out before cooking, here’s what I found out from the experts:
What Are the White Stripes on Chicken Breasts
Similar to marbling in steaks, the thin white lines you see between the pink meat on chicken breasts are intermuscular fat, meaning “fat between the meat.” These strips of fat develop naturally as the chickens grow and are not always visible to the naked eye.
The National Chicken Council’s FAQ page reports that “white striping is a quality factor in chicken breast meat caused by deposits of fat in the muscle during the bird’s growth and development.” As chicken breasts are a low-fat source of high-quality protein, more white striping is considered a degradation in quality from a commercial perspective because it adds a marginal amount of fat and may lower the protein value of the breast meat.
To get some clarity on the subject I spoke with Kelsey Keener of Sequatchie Cove Farms, a farm in Tennessee that raises chickens for eggs as well as meat. Keener explained that growth rate and feed impact the amount of white striping you see in chicken breasts. Increasing feed to grow the chicken faster is more likely to result in striping.
“Meat chickens grow super fast! From day-old chicks to processed meat (it takes just) six to eight weeks. The majority of chicken you find at the store has been grown indoors on a mass scale, fed a diet of corn, soy, and a mix of other food by-products.”
Combine these conditions with the fast-growing breeds that many large-scale poultry producers prefer, you’re more likely to see white striping in the breast meat.
Degrees of white striping in chicken vary—with less than 6 percent of U.S. poultry having severe striping—typically a result of using faster-growing breeds of chickens, providing them cheap and plentiful feed, and not giving them the space and time to roam. Likely, you won’t find these chicken breasts at the grocery store. They are processed and sold to producers of chicken products.
Is It Safe To Eat the White Stripes on Chicken Breasts?
Striping is not a sign of disease and is considered safe to eat. Some research suggests that striping increases the chicken breast’s fat content minimally. For context, a six-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast without stripping may have approximately two grams of fat while a breast of the same size with visible marbling may have as much as six grams of fat—both are still considered low-fat sources of protein.
It is possible to avoid chicken breast with striping too. Small pasture-raised chickens are less likely to have less and smaller intermuscular fat. However, they tend to be smaller breast pieces and come with a higher cost per pound.