What It Means If Your Raw Chicken Looks Shredded

Chicken is America's favorite protein, and for good reason. It's affordable, can be cooked in a variety of ways, and is generally easy to prepare, making it a go-to choice for many meals. That's why it's so disappointing to open a package of raw chicken breasts expecting smooth, firm pieces only to find that it looks shredded. It's almost like someone took a fork to it and started pulling it apart. The sight of those stringy fibers can be a real turn-off, to say the least. 

And sadly, this condition, known as "spaghetti meat," is becoming more common in grocery stores, particularly in chicken sourced from large commercial farms. The main reason behind spaghetti meat relates to how the chickens are raised. Over the past few decades, chicken production has shifted toward breeding birds that grow much larger and faster to meet the ever-growing demand for chicken meat. Unfortunately, this rapid growth can lead to issues with muscle development, which can also cause woody and unsightly chicken meat (like those green rotisserie chickens reported at Costco in April).

In the case of spaghetti meat, the muscle fibers don't get enough oxygen and nutrients to develop properly, causing them to deteriorate and separate, which results in a shredded appearance. This muscle abnormality doesn't just affect how the chicken looks, it also impacts the texture and overall quality of the meat. Given this, it's natural to question the safety of eating this strange-looking chicken.

Spaghetti chicken meat is safe to eat

The good news is that there's no evidence to suggest that spaghetti meat affects the safety of the chicken. So long as you've cooked it right, it's still safe to eat. However, this muscle anomaly does have some drawbacks, mostly related to texture and taste. When cooked, the meat turns out fibrous and stringy, which isn't ideal if you're aiming for juicy, tender chicken breast. It might also feel drier or even a bit mushy, depending on how you cook it. 

Additionally, a 2021 study published in Frontiers in Physiology reported a noticeable nutritional deterioration, particularly evident in reduced protein levels. However, if you find yourself with spaghetti meat, there are a few things you can do to make it work. Since the texture is already a bit shredded, it's perfect for dishes where you'd shred the chicken anyway, such as chicken salad, shredded chicken tacos, or pulled chicken sandwiches. Slow cooking or using a sauce or broth can also help add moisture and improve the texture. 

But if you're cooking chicken breast for a simple grilled dish or a sauté, you'll probably need to adjust your expectations, as the texture likely won't be as firm as you'd like. While spaghetti meat might not be ideal, remember that it's safe and can still be used in various dishes. If you're concerned about encountering it in the future, you could consider buying organic or free-range chicken, which might be less likely to have this texture. Ultimately, it's about knowing what you're dealing with and making the best of it.