Whether it's a turkey that was allowed to frolic about in green pastures or a fish angled from the sea and bludgeoned quickly thereafter—on some level, we all know that the fresher the food, the better it tastes.
While it's sometimes hard to pinpoint what exactly is missing in the flavour of flesh that was processed on a conveyor belt, there's no doubt that happier animals tend to make for happier diners.
Yet the reason for that difference in taste remains elusive and difficult to quantify, leaving many struggling to explain the difference between why one piece of chicken tastes more like chicken than another.
But a recent study published in the journal Food Chemistry corroborated a lot of past research which suggests that one of the reasons that anxious animals just don't taste as good as their cavorting free-range contemporaries.
Titled "Stress during slaughter increases lipid metabolites and decreases oxidative stability of farmed rainbow trout during frozen storage," the research article looked at two groups of farmed rainbow trout.
One group of fish was bludgeoned over the head while the other died from air asphyxiation, meaning that they are basically left to die in the open air. This is still an inexpensive and common method of fish slaughter but also one which is considerably more stressful (and agonizing) for the future filets who are subjected to it.
The researchers then honed in on specific groups of chemicals, like omega-3 fatty acids, which protect the meat from going rancid. By comparing the levels of these chemicals, the team was able to conclude that the method of slaughter had a huge impact on the taste of the trout.
"Asphyxiated fillets showed a slight rancid off-flavor by the 105th day of frozen storage and significant rancidity by the 135th day. Instead, a slight rancid odor was not detected for the whole storage period in the fillets from the percussion group," the study reads.
These findings are not just fodder for animal rights activists who for years have been saying that stress slaughter is responsible for the secretion of toxins which taint meat, but also farmers who could potentially extend the shelf-life of their meat by killing it more humanely.
"The present investigation indicated that slaughter method can largely affect the concentration of lipid oxygenated products and then the development of oxidation during post-mortem storage," the team wrote in their study. "This in turn could reduce their commercial shelf-life, due to a higher susceptibility to develop rancidity."
So next time you're debating between two meats, do the right thing for your tastebuds and get the ethically killed one.