Cornish hens are an interesting breed of chicken.
They do not come from Cornwall as the name suggests, but one of the breeds that were used to create the Cornish hen, the Cornish chicken, did come from Cornwall in the UK.
Cornish hens of the Cornish game hen as it’s also called were produced by crossing the Cornish and White Plymouth Rock chicken breeds.
It was a couple in Connecticut that is credited with creating the Cornish hen. So, while it has ties to the original Cornish chicken from Cornwall, England, the Cornish hen is of American origin.
Why Is It Called Cornish Hens?
Cornish hens are far from a typical breed of chicken.
First of all, Cornish hens are one of the smaller breeds of chicken. At least, in terms of chicken that you commonly find on the menu at restaurants.
This is because the Cornish hen was developed by crossing the Cornish breed with other varieties of chicken and game birds that are smaller in size.
The two people credited with creating the Cornish hen are Alphonsine "Therese" and Jacques Makowsky, and it’s said they did so in the 1950s.
I can’t find anything written down from either of the creators stating why they gave this breed the name Cornish hen, but I can see it was called the Cornish Game Hen at first.
I think it’s fair to assume it was called the Cornish hen because it was created using the Cornish chicken plus other breeds, and looks a lot like a smaller version of a Cornish chicken.
Related - Here is why Cornish hens are so small.
What Is Special About Cornish Hens?
There are a few things about the Cornish hen that are special compared to other breeds of chicken.
The first is that unlike a lot of chicken breeds that end up on the dinner table, Cornish hens were not created for the purpose of being meat birds.
Yet that’s what’s happened.
The breed was created to be a variation on a game bird. It’s not known exactly why and for what purpose, but it’s hard to imagine this small bird was intended for consumption.
People discovered that the meat of Cornish hens had a lower fat content than regular chicken, as well as a more tender, succulent taste.
Another interesting thing about Cornish hens is that, well, they’re not all hens!
Hens are female chickens, male chickens are called roosters. I spoke with a friend who is experienced in handling Cornish hens, and he told me that they can be both males and females.
Another thing to note is that even though the ‘game’ word is dropped from the title, Cornish hens are not game birds, too.
Is Cornish Hen a Pigeon?
I’ve seen it asked a number of times if a Cornish hen is a pigeon. I can tell you without any doubt that they are not pigeons, nope.
I think people ask this because Cornish hens are so small, but even so, they’re still bigger than pigeons.
Most adult pigeons weigh in the range of 250-380 grams, and Cornish hens are close to the 650-750 lb mark when they’re processed for cooking.
Let’s not forget one of the main things that separate domestic chickens from other birds like pigeons, too, chickens do not fly!
What Is the Difference Between a Cornish Hen and Chicken?
There is no difference between Cornish hens and chickens in the true sense of the word ‘chicken’.
Poultry terminology can get a little confusing, so allow me to explain….
I’m sure you’re well aware of what a chicken is. It’s a domesticated bird that comes in all shapes and sizes, colors, and hundreds of different breeds.
There are different names depending on the age, but fully mature male chickens are called roosters, and female chickens are called hens.
It’s hens that we commonly see, as hens lay eggs and are used for their meat. Although we do eat roosters on occasion, too.
Cornish hens are a specific breed of chicken, just like a Cornish, Rhode Island Red, ISA Brown, etc.
But importantly it is a different breed from what we typically see on the supermarket shelves.
The breed of chicken that is commonly sold in supermarkets comes from a type of chicken called a ‘broiler’.
To further complicate matters, broiler chickens are not a breed of chicken. ‘Broiler’ is a term given to any chicken that is produced purely for its meat.
Interestingly, the original Cornish is often used in the crossbreed for a broiler due to how quickly it grows and fattens up.
Related - I can explain why Cornish hens are so much more expensive than regular chicken.
Cornish hens are the result of crossing Cornish chickens with other breeds and were originally created in the US.
The original Cornish chicken originated in Cornwall, England, which is where the name ‘Cornish’ comes from.
Try not to get the two chicken breeds mixed up, they’re two very different types and breeds of chicken and are used for two very different purposes!