What Are Those White Stripes on Raw Chicken?

White striping can change the fat and protein content in chicken breasts. (Photo: Andrey Starostin/shutterstock)

Compared to 50 years ago, many of the chickens sold at supermarkets weigh twice as much and get there in half the time, according to a 2016 study on poultry. Chickens, particularly broiler chickens, are being bred to create a large amount of breast meat, the most desirable part because it's the leanest cut.

The irony is that during this process, it seems the lean protein is being bred right out of them.

If you've ever worked with raw chicken breasts, you know there's almost always one white stripe that runs through the breast, as there is in both of the breasts pictured above. However, it's becoming common to see more white stripes, stripes that run parallel to the muscle fiber. This defect is called white striping and it's a type of "nutritional muscular dystrophy," according to WATTagnet, a website dedicated to information on global poultry, pig and animal feed markets.

WATTagnet points out these differences in normal chicken breasts and ones with severe white striping:

  • Fillets without white striping have greater lipid and protein content compared to those with severe white striping.
  • Normal fillets show greater percentages of saturated fatty acids than fillets with a severe striping appearance, but proportions of all monounsaturated fatty acids as well as linoleic and linolenic acids are greater in severely affected fillets.
  • White striping is associated with a reduced level of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Chicken with white striping does not hold marinade very well.

A video is making the rounds that aims to educate people about white striping in chicken breast meat. The video claims that white-striped chicken meat can have up to 224 percent more fat. Although the video doesn't say more fat than what (something that should have been made clear), it's assumed that it means 224 percent more fat than chickens without the white striping.

The video also points out that chickens bred to be larger are the ones raised in factory farms, and the muscle disorder that causes the white striping results in chronic pain for the birds affected.

The takeaway is that chicken breasts with severe white striping have less protein and more fat than those without, and chickens that produce white-striped breast meat are fed diets that cause them to have a form of painful muscular dystrophy.

From now on, I'll be taking a closer look at the raw chicken I buy. How about you?