When you buy your bird, you may encounter a collection of labels that appeal to ecofriendly consumers, but represent varying shades of green. Here's a breakdown of the different types of turkey you might find for your feast. The greenest turkey is always an organically-raised bird from a local farm (to find a turkey farm near you, check out Local Harvest), but if that's not possible, heed these labels:
Natural: According to the USDA, turkey containing no artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient and is minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled "natural." The label must explain the use of the term "natural" (e.g., no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed).
No Antibiotics: These turkeys were raised without antibiotics. Poultry antibiotics can be passed through to the consumer, and can cause bacterial resistance.
No Hormones: This is a label you can ignore. Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry.
Organic: Organic turkeys are free-range birds that have fed strictly on organic grains that contain no pesticides, chemicals, hormones or antibiotics.
Fresh: This label means your bird has never been kept at a temperature below 26 degrees Farenheit. Purchase a fresh turkey no earlier than two days before Thanksgiving. If you must pick it up earlier, be sure to freeze the turkey until you're ready to cook it.
Frozen: This means that the turkey has been flash frozen at 0 °F, which will ensure freshness when it is defrosted.
Heritage: Heritage turkeys are an older breed of bird that closely resembles what the Pilgrims would have eaten at their Thanksgiving. These turkeys have a slower growth rate, and must have a long outdoor lifespan, as well as the ability to mate naturally. They also have "superior flavor, texture and tenderness."
Basted, Self-Basting, or Enhanced: These turkeys are injected with various ingredients, such as oil, juices, and seasonings, before they are frozen. When the turkey is roasted, the added ingredients keep the meat moist and tender as well as provide extra flavor.
Kosher: A Kosher turkey must be prepared under Rabbinical supervision, which means that it must be cared for ethically and slaughtered as humanely as possible.
Free-Range: Don't be fooled by this label. "Free-range" only means that the turkeys must have access to the outdoors, but can live their lives otherwise like conventional birds.