10 Turkey Myths, Debunked

iStock.com/bazilfoto
iStock.com/bazilfoto

Let's talk turkey—specifically, turkey myths.

1. Special amino acids in turkey meat make people sleepy.

The essential amino acid L-tryptophan is present in turkey, yes. The human body uses tryptophan to make serotonin and melatonin, which have a soothing effect. However, to get enough tryptophan in your system to lull you to sleep, you’d have to consume pure tryptophan at much higher dosages than are found in turkey, and generally without other amino acids. If you feel a nap coming on, most likely it’s your body reacting to a daylong splurge of eating and drinking.

2. Benjamin Franklin pushed for the turkey to be our national symbol.

Ben’s proposed national seal involved Moses at the Red Sea. Two years after the approval of the now-familiar seal with the bald eagle, Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter, containing the passage in which he grumbles about the bald eagle being a bird of “bad moral character.” The bulk of the letter had to do with a military fraternity Franklin disapproved of, and in that context, Franklin’s supposed championing of the turkey makes little sense. You can read more here.

3. The bird should always be rinsed under cold water before cooking.

Ah, salmonella. This relentless bacteria has ruined the fun of cooking poultry. Rinsing the carcass sends those buggers down the drain, right? Not really. It only spreads them all over the bird—and possibly the sink and countertop, too. The USDA even notes that “The only reason a whole turkey (or any meat or poultry for that matter) should be washed is if it was brined,” in which case they give suggestions on how to safely do the washing. For non-briners, your best bet is to skip the rinse. Molly Stevens, author of the James Beard Award-winning cookbook All About Roasting, advises salting the skin, placing the bird on a wire rack above a rimmed baking sheet, then leaving the bird uncovered in the fridge for up to two days, allowing its skin to dry out and become taut; this results in crispier skin after roasting.

4. All turkeys gobble.

Actually, it's almost exclusively the males who gobble. Turkeys have a whole range of sounds: hens make high-pitched yelps, and strutting toms produce a non-vocal thump, like a bass drum. Males and females alike sound a choppy series of honks as an alarm when they suspect predators. Want to hear for yourself? Check out this turkey soundboard.

5. Native Americans introduced Pilgrims to turkey at the first Thanksgiving dinner.

European colonists were already old hats at turkey farming and cooking. Spanish explorers brought domesticated turkeys back home from the New World, and turkeys started appearing on English menus at some point before 1550. Soon there were so many different European breeds that most of today's dinner table turkeys have ancestors from the Netherlands. And in fact, food historians aren’t sure there even were turkeys at the Pilgrim’s first thanksgiving, though wildfowl were present.

6. Turkeys have colorful plumage.

Some do, but nearly all of the turkeys raised for consumption today don’t. These birds are Broad Breasted Whites, a breed developed to convert feed to flesh in the most efficient manner possible. Their feathers are mostly white; after dressing, their carcasses are pale, without the tiny spots that turkeys with darker feathers sometimes have.

7. Those plastic pop-up thermometers tell you when your turkey is cooked.

Nope. They let you know when your turkey is overcooked. The USDA recommends cooking turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Pop-up thermometers are calibrated to pop at 180 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, pointlessly ruining your bird. Instead, use a simple instant-read probe thermometer (a decent one costs $20 and can be reused for years) and take multiple readings, sterilizing the probe after each, for greatest accuracy.

8. Turkeys can't fly.

Sure they can! They’re just not great at it. Turkeys evolved to spend the majority of their lives on their legs, pecking about for food. Wild turkeys can easily fly 100 yards (and reports of a mile-plus aren’t unheard of), but but generally only to escape predators or to roost. The broad-breasted breeds developed for industrial agriculture can’t fly, because their strength-to-mass ratio is too out of whack.

9. White meat is better for you.

Boneless, skinless white meat does contain fewer calories and fat than boneless, skinless dark meat, but the nutritional differences between the two are small. Dark meat offers a greater density of nutrients like B vitamins and iron, so don’t feel guilty if you’re a fan of drumsticks or thighs.

10. Turkeys are so stupid they drown in the rain.

While turkeys do in fact sometimes look skyward for no apparent reason (poultry scientist Tom Savage identified this condition as a genetically-caused disorder), cases of them drowning while doing so are rare. As for stupidity, turkeys can be intelligent and personable; factory-farmed turkeys aren’t bred for brains, though, and their ungainly, top-heavy frame doesn’t help their public image much.

This story originally ran in 2015.

Pet Obesity is Causing Big Health Problems, According to a New Report

iStock/dennisvdw
iStock/dennisvdw

If you’ve recently picked up your cat and felt your back give out, your furry friend may be among the 60 percent of the feline population that’s overweight. Dogs are also getting chubbier: about 56 percent of pet pooches are obese.

According to Banfield Pet Hospital, America's largest general veterinary practice with more than 1000 hospitals nationwide, those fat cats and chunky puppies are at risk for chronic health issues. In a new report, the hospital finds that osteoarthritis (OA) in pets is on the rise, with a 66 percent increase in dogs and a 150 percent increase in cats over the past 10 years.

Osteoarthritis is a kind of arthritis caused by inflammation or damage in joint tissue. Genetics, injury, or bone abnormalities can all be factors. The disease is chronic and degenerative and can make it difficult for pets to move around as they get older.

Excess weight can both precede OA and make it worse. When a pet is overweight, they can develop chronic pain that leads to stress on joints. If they already have OA, that joint discomfort can prevent them from being active, leading to weight gain. That worsens the condition, and the cycle continues.

A dog is 2.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with OA if it's obese, while cats are 1.2 times more likely. Dogs suffering from the condition tend to display symptoms like putting their weight off to one side when sitting, avoiding stairs, or appearing uninterested in playing. Cats might have loose or matted hair because they can't maneuver to groom certain parts of their body.

Although OA can be seen at any age, it’s often mistaken for old age and a pet slowing down naturally. If you notice your pet is either soft around the middle or moving more slowly, it’s best to see a veterinarian. Pets who are overweight or suffering from OA—or both—can benefit from treatments like special diets.

There Are 2373 Squirrels in New York's Central Park, Census Finds

iStock/maximkabb
iStock/maximkabb

Central Park in New York City is home to starlings, raccoons, and exotic zoo animals, but perhaps the most visible fauna in the area are the eastern gray squirrels. Thanks to a team of citizen scientists, we now know exactly how many of the rodents occupy the space—approximately 2373 of them, according to a census reported by Smithsonian.

In October 2018, a group called the Squirrel Census—with help from the Explorers Club, the NYU Department of Environmental Studies, Macaulay Honors College, the Central Park Conservancy, and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation—organized a squirrel survey across all 840 acres of Central Park. For 11 days, more than 300 volunteers staked out their sections of the park twice a day—at dawn and dusk when the crepuscular animals are most active—and noted each squirrel they spotted. They also recorded how the squirrels looked, vocalized, behaved, and reacted to humans.

The research was analyzed and presented at an Explorers Club event in New York City on June 20. All the non-peer-reviewed findings—which includes a printed report, an audio report on a vinyl 45, 37 pages of data, collectible squirrel cards, and large maps of the park and the squirrel locations—are available to purchase for $75 from the Squirrel Census website.

This isn't the first time a massive census has been conducted of a public park's squirrel population. In 2011, the Squirrel Census launched with its first survey of Atlanta's Inman Park. They've conducted satellite squirrel counts at other parks, but Central Park is just the second park the organization has investigated in person.

[h/t Smithsonian]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER