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Meat Mythbusters

20 April 2013

Using data gained through scientific papers, researchers at JSR's food quality centre aim to dispel some of the more frustrating myths associated with meat quality.

Myth: Premium products have better meat eating quality than standard products


Mechanical measures used to assess the bite force and slice shear force of pork samples at the JSR food quality centre have shown that for all but one supermarket, the standard product performed better than the premium product. When we assess slice shear force and bite force, the lower the value the more tender the product, as shown in the tables below and the premium products were often tougher than their standard range counterparts.

Myth: If the meat has a good story, it's going to eat better


As shown above, the standard product for most supermarkets performs better than the premium. Standard products often use modern pig breeds that have been selected over the years to perform at an optimum level within modern production systems.

BPEX conducted a trial that looked into the effects of growth rate on tenderness. It showed that slower growing pigs produced tougher pork and those that had experienced interrupted growth through sickness or environmental constraints were significantly tougher, paler and lost more volume than both the fast and slow-growing animals.

Successful supply chains incorporate technologies such as genotyping breeding stock for specific meat quality genes and they also ensure feed rations are designed for the genetics being used so that optimal growth rates are achieved. The more thorough producers also look at post farm-gate handling, i.e. lairage time and they select premium products based on intramuscular fat (IMF) and colour. They will also age the meat prior to sale.

Effects of pig growth rate on meat tenderness
Drip % 4.3 4.4 5.1 **
Lightness (L*) 54.1 54.5 55.6 **
Toughness (kg) 4.4 5.2 5.4 ***
Instrumental measures from work carried out by BPEX (2008)

Myth: When buying pork, look for lean, pale meat


Fat within meat has, historically, received a fair amount of negative press. This has resulted in health-conscious consumers selecting meat with very little fat cover and certainly hardly any marbling. Unfortunately, this is often to the detriment of the eating experience. Fats within meat provide a large amount of the flavour in the cooked product; in addition, they keep meat moist by basting the lean tissue during cooking. Fat, when consumed, also increases salivation which in turn means that the meat is perceived as being more moist. Ideally, pork should have at least 2.5 per cent marbling fat. A good, even cover of fat on the meat surface will help stop large joints from drying out and inject flavour throughout. Those worried about fat intake can remove the excess surface fat after cooking.

When selecting pork, the colour should be a consistent rich pink - not pale pink or heading towards red. Both pale and dark pork are associated with the animal receiving stress, which in turn has caused the metabolism of muscle into meat to occur at a rate different to the norm. Pale meat may also indicate higher levels of loss at cooking and nobody likes to see their hard earned money shrivel up to a tiny portion once cooked! Dark meat may indicate an animal has been exposed to prolonged stress; if this has occurred for most of its growing life, this may have resulted in slow or interrupted growth which as previously mentioned, results in tougher meat.

When marketing product, it is important to think about what the consumer will see. Look in the pack: is there lots of drip? Does the meat surface look wet? Is the meat pale and insipid? All these would indicate PSE meat, which will result in a substandard eating experience. Does the surface look dry and the meat is a dark pink? This would indicate DFD meat which will also result in a substandard eating experience.

The ideal product will have a consistent pink colour, with visible marbling, the surface of the meat will be moist but not wet and there will be a covering of smooth, cream/white fat. Pork fat that is yellowish or looks wet is often rejected by the consumer.

March 2013

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