Leaner, Lighter Meats

December 20, 2006

15 Min Read
Leaner, Lighter Meats

Photo: Cargill, Inc.

For those who love hot dogs and steaks, it’s a great relief that they can still indulge and make healthy choices. Low-fat and no-fat franks proliferate in the refrigerator case, and lean cuts of meat are also readily available. By choosing tenderloin over prime rib, we can have our steak and eat it, too.

Animal fats are chock full of saturates and cholesterol. But, how important is it to watch fat and cholesterol intake? The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans limits the recommended intake of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. “Heart disease has been the No. 1 killer of men and women for many years now, and is considered a largely preventable disease,” says Cynthia Sass, R.D., national media spokesperson, American Dietetic Association, Chicago. “One of the easiest ways you can reduce your risk is by reducing your consumption of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat by choosing leaner meats.”

Starting with leaner cuts of meats, therefore, is a good idea. However, since that can often cause quality issues in the finished product, designers can also use a range of ingredients and processing techniques to create leaner, lighter processed meat products that allow consumers to indulge without a serving of guilt.

Making the cut 

Beef quality is determined by the amount of intramuscular fat, or marbling.

According to USDA grading, prime carcasses have the highest degree of intramuscular fat, followed by choice, select and standard. (See http://www.ams.usda.gov/LSG/stand/standards/beefcar.pdf#
search=%22usda%20beef%20quality%20grading%22 for details.) “We call the marbling that gets distributed in the muscle the flavor fat,” says Mark McCully, director of supply development, Certified Angus Beef LLC, Wooster, OH. “It’s the flecks of intramuscular fat throughout the meat that add to the juiciness and the flavor of the product.” According to the company, marbling contributes to flavor by supplying fatty acids that form flavor compounds during cooking and store other aromatic compounds that develop when the beef is cooked.

Factors such as genetics and feed control the amount of marbling. The vast majority of U.S. cattle are fed grain, although a niche market exists for grass-fed cattle. “Glucose is the precursor for marbling, and you’ll get glucose primarily from starch, or the corn diet,” says McCully. “Those cattle that are fed high-energy or high-corn diets will typically have a higher concentration of intramuscular fat or marbling in the muscle, as opposed to the animals that are fed more of a grass or a roughage diet. Those animals would typically produce a much-leaner muscle. In terms of palatability, it’s usually much drier because it doesn’t have the fat in it, and does not have as much flavor.

“Usually, if you prefer a leaner meat, you can choose that by the type of cut,” continues McCully. “For instance, a tenderloin is a very lean cut of beef that’s also very tender, as opposed to a rib-eye that typically has a higher degree of marbling.” USDA ranks 29 cuts of beef as lean, defined as less than 10 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat and 95 mg cholesterol for a 3-oz. serving, including strip steak, top sirloin steak and top round.

The pork industry has been developing leaner cuts, too. According to the National Pork Board, Des Moines, IA, USDA nutrient values for pork shows that it has 16% less fat and 27% less saturated fat than 15 years ago. Pork tenderloin, like skinless chicken breast, is considered extra lean with less than 5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat and 95 mg cholesterol per 3-oz. serving. In addition, five other pork cuts, including boneless loin roast and chops, boneless ham and Canadian bacon, qualify as lean.

Chicken and turkey can also work as lean sources of protein, depending on the cut used. According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Nutrient Data Laboratory at http://www.nal.usda.gov, the amount of total fat in a 3-oz. serving of skinless chicken breast is half the amount of fat in chicken thigh meat. The chicken thigh also has almost four times the amount of saturated fat as the breast. Turkey breast meat is also extra lean, with less than a gram of fat per 3-oz. serving. Meat from the turkey leg is higher in cholesterol. Another option is lamb. “Unlike sheep in other countries, domestically raised sheep have been bred for their meat production rather than wool production,” explained Megan Wortman, marketing director, American Lamb Board, Denver. “In addition, they are often fed a combination of grasses and grains which results in a mild flavor and tender texture.” Unlike most red meats, lamb does not have a marbling of saturated fats throughout its cuts. With most of fat limited to outside edges, it is easily trimmed. The average 3-oz. serving of lamb has 175 calories. American lamb is an excellent source of high-quality protein, vitamin B12, niacin and zinc.

Juicy solutions 

To create leaner meat products, manufacturers often remove some of the fat. When fat is removed— whether from whole-muscle, ground or emulsified meats—water can add back the lost juiciness. The trick is getting the water stabilized all the way from the processor to the consumer. Phosphates can buffer the meat protein’s pH to levels that allow it to hold water that would otherwise be lost during processing. “Phosphates mainly are used for their ability to improve functionality of muscle proteins,” says Peter Oberacker, technical services manager, Budenheim GS Industries, Plainview, NY. “They have a strong capacity to buffer pH either up or down and as a sequestering agent to chelate polyvalent cations such as calcium, magnesium and heavy metals. This allows better water binding. Phosphates, because of their negative surface charge, assist in the stabilization of suspensions and emulsions, thus creating a stronger emulsion.”

Hydrocolloids can control moisture in meats throughout processing, distribution, cooking, holding and consumption. “In a whole-muscle product, the top applications are to retain the moisture and/or improve yield, reduce syneresis or drip loss, and to protect against freeze/thaw conditions in which the formation of ice crystals can lead to greater weeping and the destruction of the muscle tissue,” says Rodger Jonas, national business development manager, P.L. Thomas & Co., Inc., Morristown, NJ. “The goal in all these applications is the retention or improvement of juiciness of the meat. A lot of products are shipped in frozen and reused—you get loss twice.”

One function of hydrocolloids is to keep a marinade’s moisture and seasoning in the meat. “Many people try to improve their yield and get the flavor systems in the product, but it’s a matter of how much they are going to lose before the product is consumed,” says Jonas. The hydrocolloid system is chosen based on the desired finished product and processing capabilities, as well as distribution, holding and reconstitution requirements. Carrageenan is one of the primary hydrocolloids used in the meat industry. “Carrageenan is a natural product,” he continues. “Depending on what form you have, it has tremendous binding qualities. It also works well in the brine. Inclusive of all that, it can also impact texture to increase the rigidity of the meat you are working with.”

Hydrocolloids are also used in systems external to the meat in the form of glazes and sauces. Gum systems help designers readily adjust the viscosity of sauces and glazes to the desired consistency. For example, a carrageenan-based alternative to gelatin helps deliver a “nice, clear gelatin texture,” notes Jonas, which makes the glazes easier to develop and maintain.

Hydrocolloids have a greater impact on low-fat products than their full-fat counterparts, notes Jonas. “Lean meats are even more severely disadvantaged when you go through the distribution process,” he says. “When you cook, the fat will go through the whole meat and make it juicy. When you have a very lean meat and you lose moisture, you are at a disadvantage.”

Fat fakers 

Adding non-meat ingredients to ground or emulsified meat products can reduce fat content. “You can make a fat-free meat item, for example, by extending the meat component of the formula and diluting the fat contribution to the serving size used,” says Bill Limpert, senior research chemist, Cargill Texturizing Solutions, Cargill, Inc., Cedar Rapids, IA.

Ingredients used for this include soy and whey proteins, as well as starches. All of these hold water and mimic fat or meat-like properties to varying degrees. Soy proteins can bind water, emulsify fat and provide meat-like textures and firmness in the finished product.

Soy can benefit a wide range of meat applications: emulsified meats such as hot dogs, franks, bologna and spreads; whole-muscle injection and pork hams; and ground and formed products, such as chicken nuggets, cooked meat patties and sausages. “The soy proteins maintain the meat-like textures and appearances,” notes Limpert. “They contribute high quality and a natural protein source when replacing fattier meats.”

However, depending on use level and type of ingredient, soy can add flavor. “When making a bland product and the soy level becomes too high, you may notice a soy flavor,” says Limpert. “This can be soy-product-specific and finished-product- specific. Soy isolate would be the blandest and most functional, then soy concentrates and finally soy flours.”

USDA sets levels of soy ingredients allowed in meat. “Soy protein isolate is allowed at 2% in the finished meat product and can be blended or added to a solution for injected or tumbled products,” explains Limpert. “Soy protein concentrate and soy flour can be added at 3.5% in the finished meat product and can be blended or added to a solution for injected or tumbled products. Textured soy concentrates and soy flours, when used in ground-meat systems, are hydrated, and the extension levels vary widely when labeled ‘patties.’ This is so well received by the school-lunch programs, the extension levels are unlimited for new low-fat and concentrated lunch items.”

Whey proteins also offer functional solutions. “Customers are finding that specialized proteins that have better flavor and bind more water can be more effective—and often more economical—than typical commodity proteins,” says Stephen Dott, vice president, Grande Custom Ingredients Group, Lomira, WI.

One of the company’s unique whey proteins binds water without heating, notes Michelle Ludtke, senior food technologist, Grande Custom Ingredients Group. “It is usually blended with water at a 1:1 ratio,” she says, noting that a manufacturer could use 5% of the ingredient and 5% water to replace meat or the fat portion in meat. “It adds creaminess and helps hold together emulsified and coarse-ground products.” This specialty protein forms a cream-cheese-type texture when hydrated 40:60 (protein to water), whereas typical whey proteins would be fluid at that concentration.

It also helps prevent purge and improves slice-ability. A bland-tasting potato-starch gel from Penford Food Ingredients Co., Centennial, CO, is sold in a chub and processed on the same type of equipment as meat. “It has all of the lubricity characteristics of fat,” says John Randall, vice president & general manager, Penford Food Ingredients. “Depending on the size plate you grind it through, you can get little pieces that look like pieces of fat, which make the consumer think that it is the full-fat product.” He suggests a minimum addition of 10% potato starch for meaningful fat reduction and cost savings.

However, often individual fat-replacing ingredients will not act as a silver bullet. “In low-fat hot dogs, fat is replaced by water,” says Sumesh Hirway, Ph.D., senior principal food scientist, Griffith Laboratories, Alsip, IL. “To hold this extra water, we have to use ingredients which have water-holding capacity, such as soy protein, whey, starch and gum. The amount of each ingredient depends on the functionality. Each ingredient has limitations such as cost, flavor or undesirable texture. Understanding the manufacture of hot dogs, which involves heat processing and emulsion formation, as well as the target flavor and texture attributes, helps in formulation.”

Fat reduction can also affect flavor and processing. “When you dilute the meat with something that has flavor, you have to fight the flavor to get the same flavor profile,” says Randall. “Obviously, with something like a meatloaf, you can put a lot of seasoning in it to help overcome some of those flavor issues.” In a hamburger patty, “you often have to change the mix times,” she says. “When you mix a 100% meat hamburger, you are extracting some protein to give the firmness. When you dilute that down, you have to change the process to make it behave the same way.”

A plum of an idea 

Some ingredients have the ability to add both functional characteristics and appealing flavor. Dried plum helps designers reduce or eliminate humectants, water binders and flavor potentiators. When D’Agen plums fully ripen on the tree without fermenting, notes Jim Degen, marketing consultant, California Dried Plum Board, Pleasanton, CA, it concentrates several components, including fiber, sorbitol and malic acid.

“Dried plums have been used in whole-muscle meats such as pork loin and turkey breast,” says Degen, “but the bigger applications are in coarse-ground turkey burgers and meatballs, chicken sausages, and similar products.” He recommends using dried-plum purée at 3% of the raw meat block.

“When you bring ingredients into a meat plant where they must be tempered to roughly 40°F, dried-plum purée can sometimes become difficult to work with,” Degan says. We’ve been recommending dried-plum powder as opposed to purée in that environment. Dried plum powder is available and is easier to handle in the meat-processing environment.”

Dried-plum ingredients, including powder and purée, act as humectants. Degen notes that, at a 3% use level, the powder added needed moisture to school-lunch patties made from roughly 30% soy protein and 70% beef.

For whole-muscle applications, such as extra-lean pork loins, Degen recommends incorporating dried plum powder in the marinade system followed by vacuum tumbling, as opposed to injecting. “Injecting any of these dried-plum products— except for juice concentrates—can be sometimes difficult, not so much in terms of getting it through the injector but in terms of acceptable dispersion inside the whole muscle,” he says.

The malic acid in dried plums helps round out flavors, especially in low-fat items. “You wind up achieving a fatlike sensation in your mouth when you eat foods containing dried plums, and you start picking up all the flavors as opposed to tasting no flavor,” Degan notes. “The more lean the meat and the longer it cooks, the less flavor you are going to have.”

All roads lead to flavor 

Not only does the fat in meat contribute flavor, it also participates in flavor reactions during cooking, carries oil-soluble flavor components of the seasoning and coats the mouth for a longer flavor sensation. After addressing the texture of a low-fat product, the seasoning may require adjustment. “For example, in a breakfast sausage, you may have to the increase the overall level of the spice blend in order to compensate for the loss of fat that helps carry flavor,” says Shannon Kurinsky, senior food scientist, Griffith Laboratories.

The format of liquid flavors also needs consideration, notes Hirway. “If fat-soluble extracts, or oleoresins, of spices are used in the formulation for regular hot dogs, the food technologist has to switch to water-soluble extracts, or Aquaresins®, if the fat is removed.”

Leaner meats also create opportunities for flavorful marinades, rubs, glazes and sauces. Adding starches, gums and/or proteins to such marinades, glazes and sauces helps designers add visual appeal—and any flavor lost—to reduced-fat products. Let’s face it: Poached skinless chicken breast with a side of dry, steamed veggies may be healthy, but it won’t generate many customers.

The bottom line is that the product has to taste good. The degree of fat reduction that is acceptable to the consumer in terms of palatability will depend on each individual product. The best return will come from creating a pleasurable eating experience while promoting heart-healthy choices.

Karen Grenus, Ph.D., has eight years combined experience in applied research and product development in the area of dry blends for savory applications. She holds a doctorate degree from Purdue University in Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

The “Whey” to Better Reduced-Fat Hot Dogs

Looking for a way to make reduced fat hot dogs that not only perform well but also taste great? New research shows whey protein may provide the answer.

Research supported by Dairy Management, Inc.™, Rosemont, IL, recently investigated how 80% whey protein concentrate (WPC 80) performed as an ingredient in hot dogs with a fat level of 15%. The findings indicate that replacing a portion of the meat with WPC 80 increases cook yield and reduces purge—all while maintaining, or even increasing, sensory appeal. Plus it lowers formulation costs by 5%.

Whey protein’s ability to function as a meat extender and fat mimetic make it ideal in processed meats such as reduced fat hot dogs, according to Gits Prabhu, Ph.D., applications and business development manager, Proliant Inc., Ankeny, IA, who presented the research results at the 2006 IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo®. In Prabhu’s experimental reduced-fat hot dogs, hydrated WPC 80 replaced part of the most-expensive portion of the meat block on a 1:3 basis. The control was a 15% fat formulation made conventionally with pork (70% lean and 30% fat) and mechanically de-boned chicken.

The whey protein boosted cook yield 2.4% over the control and helped mitigate purge, which is important to shelf life. By week four, purge was 0.8% lower in the whey protein-enhanced hot dogs than in the control.

Consumer testing showed high levels of acceptance for the reduced-fat hot dog with WPC 80. Cured meat flavor was rated significantly higher than the control. The WPC 80 product had insignificant differences in color and core texture versus the control.

Beyond WPC, whey ingredients, such as textured whey proteins for use as meat extenders and replacers, are evolving in response to industry needs. More information can be found at www.innovatewithdairy.com

—Laura Gottschalk, director, U.S. manufacturing and ingredient marketing, Dairy Management, Inc.™

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