The White Stripes On Chicken Breasts Explained

If you're a fan of cooking up chicken breasts at home — whether bone-in or boneless — you may have noticed those white stripes running through the raw chicken meat. You've probably also wondered what, exactly, those stripes are. Should you cut them off? Are they safe to eat? As it turns out, white stripes on chicken breasts are a common, completely edible feature that can be explained by taking a look at chicken anatomy (via Allrecipes). 

According to Allrecipes, the white stripes commonly found running through chicken breasts are actually small pockets of fat that are similar to the "marbling" you'd find in red meat. As the National Chicken Council (NCC) told Allrecipes, "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." The white stripes are extremely common, with the NCC estimating that the phenomenon is found in about 12 to 43% of commercial chicken flocks.

Those white stripes are intramuscular fat

Although those white stipes on chicken breasts are safe to eat, and the stripes do not need to be removed before cooking, some animal welfare agencies contend that white striping is actually a muscle disease that affects commercially bred chickens that are raised to their slaughter weight very quickly. A report by international nonprofit organization The Humane League states, "White stripes show up because the chicken's body can't keep up with the unnaturally fast muscle growth." 

However, a 2016 study published in the trade journal Poultry Science disputes the idea that white striping is caused by accelerated growth rates. The phenomenon "is observed regardless of how these breeds are raised and are more prominent at older ages on some but not all breast filets," Billy Hargis, one of the study's authors and director of the John Kirkpatrick Skeeles Poultry Health Laboratory at the University of Arkansas, told USA Today

Whether or not white striping in chicken is an animal rights issue, biologically the stripes are just fat and are completely edible (via Allrecipes). So the next time you pick up a package of chicken breasts at the store, you'll know why they might be streaked.