The guinea fowl is native to Africa. Elsewhere in the world, breeds other than the one that is farmed, the helmeted guinea fowl, still live in the wild: the royal guinea fowl in Somalia, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar, and the African crested guinea fowl in tropical Africa.
Appreciated since ancient times, it was successively named "Numidian Hen", "Carthage Hen" or "Guinea Hen" among the Romans, then "Turkish Hen" among the Byzantines, which became "Indian Hen" in the 15th century. The Portuguese then called it pintados ("painted" or "in make-up" due to the color of its crest and wattles).
Over the centuries, various species were used to populate the aviaries of Kings and nobles in Europe.
In the 15th century, a Venetian, Ca' da Mosto, who was in the service of Portugal, brought back from his travels in Africa various types of guinea fowl, including one similar to the current helmeted guinea fowl. It soon found its way from upper-class aviaries to common farms.
However, until halfway through the last century, guinea fowl remained a rare delicacy, because it is difficult to farm, stubbornly maintaining its wild side despite efforts to domesticate it. When enclosed, the guinea hen will refuse to lay eggs and their incessant, piercing cries are extremely annoying.
In the 60s, a way around this wild behavior was found when laying and nesting guinea hens began to be housed separately. Farming increased but never really become industrial. France is the leading producer of guinea fowl.
Free-range, organic and Drôme guinea fowl and guinea poults are obviously the best. Their flesh is tastier.
The skin should be bright orange-brown and the carcass meaty.
Guinea fowl and guinea poults are sold fresh, whole, drawn with the head and feet still attached, ready-to-cook, deboned, or cut into pieces: boneless thighs, wings, legs, and drumsticks.
The same choice is available frozen.
Capons are sold fresh or frozen, whole.
In the refrigerator or cold room between 2 and 4 °C for 2–3 days, or until indicated on the use-by date (on guinea fowl pieces either vacuum-packed or wrapped in film).
Frozen guinea fowl should go straight in the freezer without breaking the cold chain.
Guinea fowl meat is rich in protein but low in fat, and so quite dry.
It contains B vitamins and minerals.
There are different varieties of guinea fowl, but it is the Helmeted Guinea fowl that has been domesticated and is farmed.
. Standard guinea fowl
It is raised in buildings at a rate of 16 guinea fowl per square meter, without being able to leave. It is then slaughtered at 2½ months (77 days) when it weighs on average 1.65 kg.
. Label Rouge free-range guinea fowl
There are 13 guinea poults per square meter in smaller buildings and these young guinea fowl can frolic outside all day in a grassy run or outdoor aviary. They are slaughtered when plumper than the previous kind, when they are a little more than 3 months old (94 days minimum).
. Guinea poults from the Drôme PGI
They are raised in the same way, but on a smaller scale (there are 130 small producers); they are slaughtered at around 13 weeks, when they weigh less than 2 kg. They have a Protected Geographical Indication label. For a few days before they are slaughtered, grapes are added to their diet.
. Organic guinea fowl
It is raised in the same way but must only be given organic food. It is generally slaughtered when it is a little over 3 months old (98 days minimum).
. Label Rouge guinea fowl capons
There are only 10 guinea poults per square meter in small buildings. They can frolic outside to their hearts' content and are mainly fed cereals. They are castrated when they are 3 months (90 days) old, and are slaughtered at 5 months (150 days minimum). During the last two weeks of their lives, they are locked in their building and fattened using a mixture of cereals and dairy products. They are ready for the end of the year.
Other guinea fowl are available all year round.