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How Much Water is in the Chicken You Buy?

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(May 5, 2014) — You work hard for your money. And you want to make sure you get what you pay for.

When it comes to chicken, big packs of boneless breasts look like a good deal. But look closely, and you’ll see most packages now say they “contain up to 15 percent added chicken broth.” That’s a fancy word for water.

Shoppers Mike Honshaw and Miranda Webster said they were surprised by the amount of water in the chicken they buy. “It contains 15 percent water? No, I have never noticed that,” Honshaw said.

“That’s a lot of water,” Webster said.

Fifteen percent is one thing. But our consumer investigation found you may be paying for even more water with some chicken.

We Go Shopping

Over two days, we went into a Walmart Supercenter and a supermarket to buy five brands of boneless breasts. Three were “house” brands, two were more expensive national brands.

We bought:

  • A Walmart value pack.
  • Walmart extra thin breasts.
  • A supermarket value pack.
  • Perdue.
  • Tyson.

While it was not a fully scientific test, performed in a controlled lab environment, we were careful to weigh everything on the same calibrated digital scale.

The good news is that each package weighed more than the label said, to allow for all the packaging. Tyson was especially generous: they gave us 3.25 pounds, but only charged for 3 pounds.

But the good news ended there.

With most, the absorbent pad underneath was saturated with water.

Walmart Thin

The most waterlogged of our five samples: Walmart’s thin chicken breasts. You pay for 1.82 pounds (The actual weight including packaging was 1.93.)  But when we weighed it, we got just 1.59 pounds of chicken.

More than a third of a pound (0.335) was water in the pad. So 18.7 percent of what we bought was water you throw away before cooking.

Supermarket

Next watery was our supermarket “value chicken.” We paid for 4.01 pounds, but got just 3.36. That means 18 percent was water in the pad.

Walmart Value

Walmart’s value breasts were next: 16.2 percent water in the pad. That meant that of the five pounds of chicken, almost a pound is water and packaging.

Tyson, Perdue

The brands with the least water? Tyson contained just 11 percent water in the pad. And Perdue had no absorbent pad with its shrink wrapped chicken — and maybe it doesn’t need one. We found just 10 percent was water, which is exactly what the label said: “10 percent added solution.” No surprises.

Retailers React

The supermarket we tested, Kroger, said that added broth makes the cooked chicken less dry and many customers prefer the enhanced chicken. Kroger officials said if shoppers would prefer no solution added, their stores offer Simple Truth and organic alternatives without water.

Walmart, echoing statements from the National Chicken Council, said taste tests show consumers prefer the enhanced version because it is more tender.

Walmart also said its plants are very careful to add just 15 percent chicken broth, and that if we measured more it may be because the chicken already contained natural water.

Want less water? If it bothers you, look for organic brands that say nothing added. Otherwise, you may be paying a dollar for salt water.

As always, don’t waste your money.

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