Who is This Turkey?
The Latin name for turkey is Meleagris gallopavo. The meaning of Meleagris is “African hen”. Besides, Gallopavo is composed of two Latin words as the “gallus” which means rooster and the “pavo” which means peacock. (DEFRE, 2007)
Even though turkey is generally associated with chicken, it is a close relative of pheasant and partridge. Turkey is indigenous to the American continent. The habitats of wild turkeys consists of a variety of geographical territories which are 2000 meters about sea level, from rain forests to deserts, from mild to tropical climates within the borders of Southern USA and Mexico. Wild turkeys choose to take up habitat in nature, forests and meadows. Their furs are made from deep colours with the aim of making them adaptable to their habitat. (NRC, 1991)
Their diet arrays are very wide. Turkeys have various nutritional possibilities which include greens, fruits, seeds, nuts, grass, berries, bulbous plants, insects, ichneumon flies, snails, and snakes. Their reproductive behaviours are seasonal. Daylight is required for at least 12 hours for them to be able to start their reproduction behaviours. At night wild turkeys perch on lower branches of trees. Wild turkeys are capable of seeing at 270 degrees width and have very developed hearing abilities. Wild turkeys can not only fly at the speed of up to 90 km/h in short distances, they can also run 40 km/h (NRC, 1991; Anonymous, 2004).
The first findings related to wild turkeys date back 8000 B.C. Turkeys had been tamed 2000 years before our time and were hunted by the Native Americans until 1000 A.D. (DEFRA, 2007).
The furs from turkeys have been used not only on ceremonious outfits but also on the arrow heads.
It is possible that the first explorers of America had taken turkey with themselves on their return journey to Europe (Hall, 1996; Anonymous, 2004; NTF, 2007b). There are recordings of the commencement of the first turkey farming which started in 1524 in England, in 1530 in Germany, and in 1540 in France. These findings reinforce the views that turkeys have been transported to Europe by the New World explorers. Turkey meat soon became very popular in Europe and came to be regarded as an important part of royal cuisines. The fact that King Charles the IX of France gave turkey among other gifts to Princess Elizabeth of Austria in 1570, goes to show the importance of the value given to the turkey meat back in that period. About the same years, the turkey meat started becoming an indispensible part of the Christmas menus in England (Raloff, 2003).
Together with the definite awareness that the word “turkey” is used on a worldwide basis which means a Turkish bird, the exact reason for such designation is unknown, although there are some views on the matter. One of the hypotheses is that the resemblance of a male turkey’s wattle, a thin hanging skin around the neck, with the long red headwear of the janissaries (Raloff, 2003; DEFRA, 2007) might have lead to such designation. There are proofs of assertions relating to the designation of turkey, in that the word “firke” was used by the Native Americans to connote the word “turkey” by nuance, and that the word “turka” used to name pheasants in the Tamil region of India, was used by Christopher Columbus name turkey. It has also been suggested that the word, which the Jewish living in Spain used to denote turkey is “tukki” which in their language means “peacock”, because turkey bears strong resemblance with the peacock, in effect became to be utilized as the word we know today (Raloff, 2003). Another point of views claims that in the 16th century, tradesmen, in the Mediterranean ship trade, known as Turkish traders (even though they were not Turkish), traded in products which contained turkey among them and by this way were given the name Turkish bird (DEFRA, 2007).
Today, there are five varieties of turkey: Black, Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, Royal Palm.
With the commencement of cross-breeding in 1950 of Wide Breasted Bronze and White Holland, were created Broad Breasted White or Large White in 1960s, bearing positive features for the trade. With the introduction of Broad Breast the Bronze varieties completely lost their market share. At present, this variety, solely dominates the turkey meat industry (Dohner, 2001; ALBC, 2007).
The turkey meat is categorized under two base groups that have different nutritional compound differences which are named "white meat" and "dark meat". The “dark meat” is made up of thighs, drumsticks, drummettes and the “white meat” is made up of breasts, wings, and tenderloin. A whole turkey meat consists of 70% white meat and 30% dark meat. The white turkey meat is preferred, over the dark meat, for the low calories it has and for being less fat as it is compared with the dark meat, in countries where people are are aware of the healthy nutritional principles such as in the USA and EU.
However, dark meat is more preferable than the white one because of its’ taste in the countries such as Turkey, China and other Asian countries.
Table 1: The nutritional values of one portion (85 gm) cooked meats with no fat. (NTF, 2008a).
Calories from meat
Total calories (g)
Saturated fat (g)
Sodium ( mg)
Protein ( gr)
Turkey breast meat
Chicken breast meat
Beef (cut into small pieces)