This ground turkey smells very strongly of turkey
August 8, 2017 5:39 PM   Subscribe

I have cooked with ground turkey for years. Tonight, we went to make tacos using the usual ground turkey I buy. I opened the raw meat package, which looked fine and wasn't expired, and immediately I noticed that it smelled more like turkey than usual. I didn't think much of it, but upon cooking, the house became filled with an intense turkey smell, and the tacos tasted REALLY like turkey. What does this mean? Am I going to get sick?

Like, I couldn't even taste the taco seasoning. All I could taste was turkey. I added more seasoning and it didn't seem to help. My husband didn't even notice, so I thought maybe I was going crazy or maybe I'm coming down with something... like when you're coming down with the flu and food starts to taste weird. I had to stop eating it eventually because I found it repulsive, even though the only word I can think of to describe the smell is "turkeyish."

But then I Googled this turkey-smelling turkey phenomenon and found a bunch of people who've posted on various forums with this same question over the years. Thing is, no one seems to know what it is, or really if the meat is still safe to eat. One woman had the same experience I had, where she noticed and it repulsed her while her husband thought it was perfectly normal. I hope someone here has an explanation for this.

Meanwhile, considering we both ate it, I'll report back later and let you know if we get sick.
posted by bananana to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it possible that you could be pregnant? This sounds a lot like pregnancy-specific food aversion.
posted by coppermoss at 5:50 PM on August 8, 2017 [10 favorites]

Maybe a different ratio of dark to light meat in the blend?
posted by kapers at 5:56 PM on August 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

this has happened to me with ground turkey and there was no gestating involved. my partner, once alerted to it, could smell it very easily and we ended up dumping the rest of the meal after eating a portion. no ill came of it, but that smell is rank. my theory is that that batch got oversaturated with the "natural flavoring" juice and no amount of cooking could subdue that.

edited to add: some people are better at noticing smells than others, and others are better at just smelling. take a pregnancy test if you feel it's germane, but otherwise yeah, ground turkey, sometimes it be funky.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:59 PM on August 8, 2017

I literally had this experience last night and was also weirded out. It was Safeway's Open Nature brand, which is the brand we normally buy. My partner and I both finished our meal, and I had leftovers today, and so far no ill effects. I was also wondering if it was just a dark to light meat ratio or something else but I really have no idea. It was still noticeable in the leftovers as well.
posted by primalux at 6:04 PM on August 8, 2017

This particular turkey is Shady Brook Farms brand, 85% lean, sold in a 48oz package. I've been buying it for years. The ingredients are turkey and, indeed, "natural flavoring."

When I opened the package, I used my hands to divide the meat into three 1-pound portions to freeze the other two. After I washed my hands thoroughly with soap and water, I still smelled that smell on them.

And I am 99.9% sure I'm not pregnant. :)
posted by bananana at 6:09 PM on August 8, 2017

This has happened to me with higher-fat turkey. I usually buy 99% lean now to avoid it. It happened regularly when I was buying 93% lean. At 85% lean, I'd bet it was pretty intense! I'm not sure whether it's that the natural flavor clings more to the fat or whether the fat itself can create more of the turkey flavor, but with ground turkey, I don't like it. When I roast a turkey, I'm all about the skin, fat drippings, and dark meat - which makes me think it's the flavoring they use.
posted by quince at 8:22 PM on August 8, 2017

So even if you're not pregnant, it may still be related to hormone fluctuations because of your cycle or something.

Alternatively, do you have allergies at all? Or a recent cold? I have chronic sinus congestion due to allergies, and on the rare occasion when I'm not super congested, I suddenly notice that I can't like, smell and taste things way better.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:42 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Since I don't think I have a fix on what you mean by "intense turkey," this may be wayyy off base. But in the course of raising and eating both chickens and turkeys for many years, I found that there is a particular taste and aroma for each that is intense, that I would describe as "chickeny" or "turkeyish" respectively, and that I easily identified, as a frequenter of the barn and its yard, as a flavor byproduct of autocoprophagy. If you've ever had a close encounter with turkey poop, you will know exactly the smell I'm talking about. The flavor, when it manifests, is really more a product of the smell than an actual flavor.

For most people who have not been privy to a barnyard encounter, it comes across as just an intensification of the flavor (in my experience--you seem to be an exception to that rule). I assert this as a result of a few conversations with people along the lines of, "This tastes fine to you, right?" "Yeah, delicious! So intense!" which I'm thinking whoa, tastes like turkey poop smells to me. There's a similar thing with aged goat cheese--if you've ever been around a goat buck who's pissing on himself because there are does in heat, you will recognize an unmistakable counterpart to that smell in the smell and flavor of any aged goat cheese.

The good news is that, initial revulsion notwithstanding, it's not dangerous. I don't know that much about commercial chicken meat raising, but I know that turkeys are raised in large open barns in which, if they're bored or don't like their feed, the poop is right there for the eating. It's gonna happen. And there are some components that may be present in the feed--such as fish meal--which will really boost the flavor contribution. Kind of like how lobster tastes like fish poop :)
posted by bricoleur at 9:16 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thinking along the lines of what bricoleur says...
I've had duds among ground chicken packages (which I what I was using at the time, but the system works in the same way), so much so that I stopped buying the product at all. Even if the date on the package is ok, maybe the specific conditions within the factory on that specific day weren't, or something got messed/mucked up when cleaning the bird, or a whole bunch of other things could have happened that aren't really fun to consider either.

I personally would let this go, after an experience of homemade sausages made of bits of pork that had a pronounced pork stink even after rinsing, which carried all the way through to the final, spiced, frozen, re-thawed and nicely-fried product. Not for safety reasons so much as for the taste.
posted by Namlit at 1:02 AM on August 9, 2017

I've experienced this (and even thought of doing an AskMe about it). It happened twice with 85% lean ground turkey, which is a kind I've used many times without the strong smell. The first time my wife and I ate the finished dish with no problems, but the strong turkey smell ruined the flavor of the dish. The second time I just tossed the raw turkey before I cooked the dish because I knew from the last time that it would not taste good.

I am a man, so for me this was definitely not related to pregnancy.
posted by crLLC at 7:02 AM on August 9, 2017

I've had this happen recently when I tried a different brand of ground turkey. I believe it was indeed higher fat than usual. For me, I thought "huh, this ground turkey actually smells like turkey!" and it tasted fine. I couldn't detect any different flavor once I had dosed it with taco seasoning, and we did not get sick eating it.
posted by tybstar at 12:03 PM on August 9, 2017

It's mysterious what they put in "natural flavoring." It could be anything! I had a problem last year with Jennie-O brand turkey Italian sausage that smelled like roses. Everyone eating the spaghetti sauce I made noticed the oddly floral scent, so it wasn't just me. Some didn't mind, but I disliked it extremely. I sent a complaint to them via their web site, since this seems to me to be the sort of thing that needs to be discouraged. I hope they will change to a different flavoring pack from their flavorists.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 1:19 PM on August 9, 2017

It's now several days later, so I can provide some updates:

- Neither of us got sick from eating the turkey.

- A couple days after posting this I ate the rest of the taco I'd abandoned that night (yes, I saved the taco), and while it still had a noticeably weird taste, it didn't nauseate me as much as it did originally. Not sure if that's because it was sitting in taco seasoning for a couple days or if I just wasn't as sensitive to it.

My conclusion is that the turkey definitely had an unusual and especially poultry-esque taste, possibly for one of the reasons described in the responses here. And while I am not pregnant, hormones may have been involved in my extreme disgust with the turkey to the point where eating it made me want to barf that day and drove me to post this question here.

I may eventually try making sloppy joes with the frozen raw turkey and see if that manages to mask the taste enough, and maybe in the future I'll stick with the leaner varieties of turkey if that's less likely to have this problem.
posted by bananana at 12:17 PM on August 12, 2017


Tonight, I took a pound of the raw meat out of the freezer in order to make it into sloppy joes. I figured if anything can mask that taste, it's sloppy joe sauce, with its onions, ketchup, tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and other seasonings.

Well, even sloppy joe sauce does not mask this smell or taste. I chopped up an entire onion and a stalk of celery and cooked it with the meat, and all I could smell while that was cooking was the mega-turkey. I dumped in the rest of the sauce and simmered everything for 20 minutes, and still the turkey was all I could smell. and STILL my husband didn't notice anything out of the ordinary - he loved the meal - and I could only make it through my sandwich after piling cheese onto it.

(And still I am not pregnant, and I'm not having any kind of significant hormonal experience at this time, and every other food I've had lately has had no issues. I'm apparently just sensitive to this weird turkey and he isn't.)

We've agreed that he will use the remaining pound of frozen turkey sometime in the future to make tacos that only he will eat.
posted by bananana at 5:25 PM on September 11, 2017

We used to eat turkey 2-3X a week and something is going on. Did they have too many leftover turkey from Thanksgiving and now they are selling us old turkey? Something has changed in the chopped turkey sold and it smells and tastes so gamey, it makes my whole family puke. I'm going to try buying organic turkey from Whole Foods.
posted by Marcy50 at 11:57 AM on February 26, 2018

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