Turkey – Meleagris – Meleagris is the genus, which consist of two birds: Domestic or gallopavo and the Yucatan or ocellata. Both of these birds were domesticated by the Mayans over 3000 years ago (around 800 BCE). Every turkey in the world can trace its lineage back to the Americas because turkey is native ONLY to North, Central and South Americas.
In the past couple years there has been a debate raging in the culinary community about what is better – wild, heritage or domestic turkey for the holidays. What makes these birds different? Similar? Better than another?
Wild Turkey –
The eastern wild turkey is what most think of when they think of a wild turkey. These are the turkeys that were first encountered by European settlers. This is the same turkey that Ben Franklin thought should be the national bird (the eagle won out). And this is the turkey that the Pilgrims would have eaten if they had turkey for dinner.
Notable aspects of this bird: a natural 50/50 mix of white and dark meats, a slight gamey flavor (depending on food available in their region), very lean, and much smaller than domestic or even heritage birds. These birds will cook the fastest of the three types. They will also benefit the most from added fat (butter) and constant basting when roasting.
Heritage Turkey –
Heritage turkeys are typically raised on small farms, usually in an open pasture and fed natural grains and grasses. While there are nearly 3 million turkeys sold every year, only 25,000 of those are from a heritage breed. Because of this, they will average nearly $20 per pound or $200 for a single turkey!
Notable aspects of this bird: will have a 50/50 to 60/40 white to dark meat ration, being farm raised they generally don’t have a gamey flavor, also being farm raised they will have a bit more fat in them than a wild turkey and they will have half the size of a breast than a domestic Broad Breasted White.
Domestic Turkey –
The Broad Breasted White turkey is what graces the tables of nearly every home in America’s thanksgiving and/or Christmas table. Bred specifically for the size of the breasts, this turkey can trace its lineage back to two trips across the ocean. The first trip from Mexico to England in the early 1500’s, there it was bred specifically to increase the size of the bird. The second trip was from England to Jamestown in 1608. From there, they have been bred specifically for mass production and maximum breast meat.
Notable aspects of this bird: there will be an 80/20 white to dark meat ratio, mass produced and fed exclusively grain this bird will have a very flat/plain flavor as well as the highest fat ratio. Even with all that, this is the bird that 99% of the people in the country thinks of when a “holiday turkey” is mentioned.