Why Isn't Store-Bought Turkey Gamey?

If you've ever eaten wild turkey then you know it doesn't taste quite the same as those Butterball turkeys you eat every Thanksgiving. The meat from wild animals, including turkeys, has a certain taste that some describe as gamey. But what exactly is a gamey flavor and why doesn't a store-bought turkey taste that way?

Gamey is a stronger taste than one might be accustomed to. In an interview with USA TODAY, Isaac Toups, the owner of the restaurant Toups Meatery, explained the difference between domesticated animals and wild game. They said, "It means a stronger, wilder flavor. If you're used to eating domesticated animals, then you can taste the difference right away. The animal is often stronger, and the protein leaner in fat."

While you can find turkeys in the wild, many of the turkeys eaten today are domesticated. Native Americans first mastered the art of domesticating turkeys, with evidence that Mexico was one of the biggest early practitioners. Through interaction with these natives, Europeans learned to domesticate the fowl as well. Today, more than 46 million turkeys are consumed each Thanksgiving. So, the reason that store-bought turkeys aren't gamey is because they're domesticated, but what causes the difference in taste?

Wild turkeys vs store-bought turkeys

Wild turkeys and domesticated turkeys are, in fact, different sub-species, so there's a distinct difference. When it comes to how their meat tastes, diet plays an important role. Wild turkeys are foragers, eating a variety of berries, nuts, and even insects. Domesticated turkeys eat a mixture of grain made up of corn, barley, wheat, and canola.

A diet of corn is a large factor in making the domestic turkey's meat more mellow and bland, with a higher fat content. In comparison, the wild turkey's diet of berries and other natural plants makes for a sharper taste and leaner meat. Wild turkeys are smaller than their domesticated cousins, and leaner and more muscular as well. As a result, they have darker, firmer meat than domesticated birds. 

When preparing a wild turkey, be careful not to overcook it, as the meat can become dry and tough. Domesticated turkeys are less active and are fattened up prior to slaughter. Their meat is softer, and is often served roasted. Though there may be a difference in flavor between domestic and wild turkeys, they are both worthy options for your Thanksgiving dinner.