The Ayam Cemani of Indonesia, Black Skin, Organs, and Even Bones
The Ayam Cemani of Indonesia is black. I would say the Ayam Cemani chicken, but this would be redundant, as ayam is the Indonesian word for chicken. A black chicken is not so unusual. My grandmother had black chickens, from time to time, on her chicken farm. But the Ayam Cemani is completely black. From feet to beak. It has black toenails, a black tongue, black skins, black wattles. It even has black bones and organs! This bird, in Indonesia, is thought to bring its owner prosperity and good luck. In Thailand, as well, it is thought to have mysterious powers.
A Special Gene and Melanin
As revealed in the video, it’s the melanin that is responsible for the Cemani being so black. But this is not really an explanation, as melanin is always the pigment responsible for giving chickens, and people, their color.
Birds with black skin are nothing new. They have been known for thousands of years, especially in China and other Asian countries. It is a condition called fibromelanosis that is responsible for extreme blackness, affecting also the connective tissues. There is an autosomal dominant gene thought to be responsible but expression can be complicated so that not all chickens, or birds with this gene will fully express this ‘blackness.’ This is seen in silkies, where the comb and wattles have a very dark, almost purple shade known as mulberry, sometimes called ‘mulberry face,’ which is well known in Asian countries. This can sometimes affect not only the skin, but also the muscles, organs, and even the blood. The Silkie, by the way, is called the Taihe in China.
The Ayam Cemani were originally a descendant of Bekisars, an ancient Javan cross-breed of green jungle fowl males (Gallus varus) and red jungle fowl females (Gallus gallus). This Ayam Bekisar are till the national bird of Western Java and are kept on fishing boats, held in bamboo cages, so that fellow fisherman can hear their very loud and long crows and thus keep in contact with one another. It could be that the green jungle fowl were the carriers of this trait. 1 2
Do People Eat these Black Chickens?
You may balk at eating black-colored chicken but in China and throughout Asia, these birds are considered very valuable. They are considered traditional medicine, their black color representing the water element, and yin. Made into a stew, they are recommended to help women after pregnancy and for other ‘female diseases.’ 1
As explained in the video, they are expensive! A single chicken can go for $700 to $1400 on the U.S. market. For all of this, a serving of this black-fleshed and black-boned chicken is said to “taste like chicken.”
- Reeder, Brian. An Introduction to Form and Feathering of the Domestic Fowl. AuthorHouse, 2011.
- Percy, Pam. The Field Guide to Chickens. MBI Pub. Co., 2006.