We are not referring to the taste of chicken here, but the taste BY the chicken.
How much do they taste and do they have preferences.
Taste is usually expressed in humans as sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.
These we appreciate by an array of various taste buds. These are variable according to the species.
Generally, herbivores have the largest number of taste receptors, some 25,000 in the cow. But, for absolute max. we have to look to the humble catfish at 250,000.
Omnivores, such as the pig, with 17,000 and humans with 10,000, are intermediate.
Carnivores, meat eaters, have fewer, such as 500 in the lion.
Chickens are somewhat different, and are usually reckoned to have 250-350 taste buds, though one piece of research claims to have found over 700.
The 10,000 found in humans decline in number with age, and by 65, only about 5,000 remain. These are turned over every 8-12 days.
In the chicken, the number of taste buds remains constant from day 1 to day 140 at least. They are 7um in width.
In humans, the taste buds are mostly on and around the tongue.
But, in chickens, the taste buds are not clustered in papillae on the tongue, but 60% are scattered at the back of the upper palate.
Hence, by the time the chicken perceives the taste, it is almost committed to swallowing.
The chicken lacks the taste buds which record sweet. So, providing sugar solutions for the bird to drink, does not attract them, but may simply provide energy indirectly.
They are more sensitive to salt and sour as chicks than they are when adult.
In behavioural drinking tests, 1 week-old chicks consumed a lower quantity of bitter solution than water, but 8-9 week-olds, were less affected. The younger birds had higher functional bitter receptors on the palate, and so were more sensitive to bitter.
Umami receptors respond to amino acids.
When it comes to choosing what to eat, it can become very confusing.
Adult chickens offered a trough containing equal proportions of maize, wheat and barley mixed together, will preferentially pick out the maize first, then the wheat and finally the barley.
But, if the 3 grains are offered in separate troughs, they will pick out the wheat first, then maize and finally move to the barley.
Chickens have also shown a preference for corn over rye.
It is not clear if hunger and taste play a part in the seeming time perception shown by chickens, who are aware of intermittent food availability, even without any audible or visual signals.
Work by McIntosh showed that whole wheat yielded more metabolisable energy than ground or pelleted wheat.
Emmans found when he offered layers a choice between complete layer feed or ground barley, there were no differences in performance.
But, Karunajeewa fed layers complete mash diets, either barley or wheat based, or a choice between whole grains or the concentrate. Hens receiving wheat laid better than those fed barley, but the hens receiving a choice laid heavier eggs and consumed 11% less feed than those on the complete diet. So, the hens clearly prefer to choose their own.
However, laying birds seem less able to wisely choose their feed compared to broilers, and amino acids are particularly not well chosen.
Having said earlier that chickens do not taste sweet, they, nevertheless, will consume sweet things.
In the early 1960s, Don Bray from Oregon University and myself, conducted experiments at Reading University, in which we fed broilers on diets containing molasses.
The birds ate the diets with no adverse reactions and at the end of the experiments, we held our own taste tests and barbecued the birds.
We could certainly taste “sweet” and all agreed they were the best bbq chicken we had ever tasted, with succulent and sweet flesh.