Why Does Costco’s $4.99 Rotisserie Chicken Taste… Soapy? A hunt for answers
- March 17, 2023
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Well, I got my chicken in Connecticut. What about the thread goers?
Abraham, a stalwart member of Costco for the past decade, told me over the phone that he buys the chicken at least “a couple times a year” — in Southern California. (Hoping not to tie his identity to his Reddit account, he asked to have his last name omitted.) When he first noticed the chemical taste earlier this year, it was “mild” and mostly on the skin of the chicken isolated. He mentally cataloged it, but rushed ahead and bought another chicken.
The second time? “We just threw it away,” he said. “We neither ate it nor gave it to the children.”
Another Californian, Shawn LaVrar, told me in a DM that they’d noticed the soapy taste about three times in the last few years — including on the chicken’s skin.
Additionally, a Washington, DC-based writer reported for Today.com that his recent Costco rotisserie “didn’t taste any different,” while a San Francisco-based reporter wrote for Insider last year that her Costco rotisserie chicken “didn’t taste any different.” tasted unnatural.
was i onto something Foster Farms did not respond to a request for comment. So I called Harshavardhan Thippareddi, PhD, a professor of poultry science at the University of Georgia, and smugly waited for a verbal pat on the back for cracking the Soapy Chicken code. Instead, he nipped that theory in the bud. Costco, the mega-powered chain that it is, probably standardizes chicken preparation across its suppliers, he said, so one farm is unlikely to come out with noticeably worse chicken than the next.
“They tell all their suppliers, ‘Hey, we want you to do this,'” he said. “It’s not the fault of the processor or the supplier.” (Costco did not respond to a request for comment.)
While my geography theory was quickly becoming obsolete, and with it my confidence in my investigative skills, he offered another culprit: phosphate. He said fried chicken, which tends to be dry during the cooking stage, is often injected with the chemical compound by many poultry suppliers to keep it extra juicy. In fact, Costco’s fried chickens contain phosphate alongside a laundry list of other ingredients with very long names. And while consumers should ideally not taste phosphate, Thipareddi said some are more sensitive to the chemical than others.
Perhaps people who tasted soapy notes in Costco chickens were reacting to the phosphate. When I Googled various permutations of “phosphate,” “chicken,” and “soap,” a 2007 study published in the Journal of Applied Poultry Research stopped me. Researchers from Texas Tech and Auburn University found that “excessive phosphate intake can cause a ‘soapy’ taste, rubbery texture and poor color.”
The California Dried Plum Board, which proposed replacing phosphates with…dried plums, also noted in a 2011 “Bulletin” that “alkaline phosphates result in a ‘soapy’ taste when used in too high a concentration.” I would have to assume that the California Dried Plum Board has a financial interest in stuffing dried plums as an industrial additive for millions of chickens, but hey, evidence is evidence.