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Richer Meat FlavorsRicher Meat Flavors

February 17, 2010

9 Min Read
Richer Meat Flavors

By Cindy Hazen, Contributing Editor

Prime rib. Filet mignon. These are the centerpieces of celebratory dinners. When properly cooked, the flavors of these meats can stand sublimely alone. But achieving this succulent richness in everyday dishes is challenging, especially when using inexpensive cuts of meat found in value-added and processed foods.

Meat flavor science 101

According to William Baugher, Ph.D., president and owner, Blue Mountain Enterprises, Inc., Kinston, NC, every food and flavor researcher has their own theory concerning the formation and composition of meat flavors. But from his perspective, there are three basic components for nearly all meat flavors: a fat component, a lean meat component and a gustatory component.

The fat component supplies the species specificity and some processing characteristics, like frying or roasting, says Baugher, noting that processors can mimic this with fat and/or vegetable reactions. The lean meat component we mimic by the use of hydrolyzed vegetable protein and/or autolyzed yeast and their reaction products. Also, certain amino acid and/or sugar reactions are very beneficial in copying different lean meat fractions, particularly the degree of roasting or heating, he says. The gustatory fraction of meat flavors is composed of blood and lymph. Monosodium glutamate, nucleotides and other umami-type components are utilized to mimic the gustatory fraction, he adds. Keeping these three components separate gives the company the ability to combine them in different combinations to produce a nearly infinite variety of flavor experiences, he says.

Chemically speaking, meat is made of protein, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins, water and trace amounts of mineral salts, explains Harshad Patel, Ph.D., technical director, savory flavor creation, Kerry Ingredients & Flavours, Beloit, WI. During cooking, many of these components break down to produce a wide variety of volatile components, which further interact to develop even more-complex mixtures of flavorful compounds.

Nonvolatile and volatile components contribute to the flavor of food. Nonvolatile components provide basic tastes, such as sweet, sour, salty, bitterness and umami, while volatile compounds contribute to the overall flavor of food, says Patel. These volatile compounds are present in extremely small amounts. However, due to their low threshold, they impact consumers acceptance greatly.

In meat, the sweetness is provided by some of the sugars and amino acids. The presence of organic acids, such as lactic acid and succinic acid, imparts sourness. Inorganic salts and sodium salt contribute to the salty perception. Various amino acids and peptides provide slight bitterness to the meat. Umami is due to the presence of glutamates, MSG, IMP (5-inosine monophosphate) and GMP (5-guanosine monophosphate) and other compounds.

There are many peptides which contribute toward savory and meaty character, Patel continues. Protein or amino acids, via Strecker degradation, produce a number of carbonyls, ammonia and hydrogen sulfideamong other compounds. He says that thesealong with breakdown products of carbohydrates, fats, nucleotides and vitamins, produce a wide array of volatile compounds. Over 1,000 compounds have been found in various meats. Protein is very important to the overall meat flavor, as it contributes to different taste attributes and, during cooking, produces a large number of flavorful volatile compounds, which are important for the overall appetizing aroma of meat. Most of these components present in meat contribute to the overall flavor of the meat, including fat. Small amounts of fat from meat provide specificity to the overall flavor of the meat species. Fat predominantly contributes to the fried, grilled and dripping type of flavor to most meats.

Fat is a good conveyance of what the animal has eaten, notes Chris Warsow, executive chef, Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, IL. American consumers are accustomed to grain-finished beef. South American beef, which is grass-fed, is being imported because it is cheaper to produce. However, U.S. consumers tend to find the grassy note objectionable. Using a reaction flavor in an injected or vacuum-tumbled solution prior to cooking can mask some of this grassy note and impart a grain-finished type of flavor, he says. This process can also be used to make other lesser cuts of meat more palatable, like intact bull meat and cow meat. This system is less important if the formula contains other strong competing flavors like chiles or strong herb notes.

Not just the cut of meat, but the cooking method is also important to meat flavor. In particular, the time and temperature of the cooking process is critical to flavor development.

Some of the most-important volatile compounds are the sulfur-containing molecules, says Robert Pan, senior flavor chemist, Bell Flavors & Fragrances. These are brought about in the cooking process from the feedstock materials of reducing sugars and sulfur-containing amino acids. This chemical process is called the Maillard reaction. The other main reaction is the thermal degradation of the fatty tissue inherent in the meat. This is known as thermal degradation of the lipids. Studies have shown that heating aqueous extracts of beef, lamb and pork produce similar results. Heating of the fat portion will yield specie-characteristic aromas. The characteristic flavor such as 4-methyloctanoic acid and 4-methyl nonanoic acid are lamb-like; 2-4 decadienal are fatty chickenlike, 12-methyltridecanal are cooked beef-like. He also notes that auto-oxidation of fat could create undesirable flavor compounds that characterize rancidity.

The importance of preventing off flavors due to oxidative breakdown of lipids and elimination of warmed-over flavor (WOF) is stressed by Ed Schoenberg, senior applications technologist, meat and poultry technologies, Kerry Ingredients & Flavours. Use of antioxidants can minimize these effects, he says. Natural sources, such as oleoresin rosemary, can be utilized, providing cleaner labeling of the finished product.

Adding oomph

Flavors can be designed to add authentic flavor and generally improve cheaper cuts of meats, and also to help cover up some of the off flavors, such as WOF, frequently present in processed meats, says Schoenberg. Flavor can be created to enhance and impact any and all of the attributes, such as aroma, taste and juiciness of the meat.

Enhancers can significantly impact the flavor fullness and umami perception of meat. These include various types of hydrolyzed proteins, yeast extracts and soy sauce, as well as monosodium glutamate, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate, Schoenberg continues. The addition of fats and oils may also be used to add richness and mouthfeel. Animal fats, such as chicken fat or bacon fat, significantly enhance the species-specific character, while oils such as olive or sesame oil can add a rich mouthfeel while also imparting subtle flavor nuances characteristic to specific cuisines.

Joe Formanek, Ph.D., associate director, business development, application innovation, Ajinomoto Food Ingredients, LLC, Chicago, suggests considering kokumi, rather than umami, when talking about enhancing meat flavor.Certainly, umami by itself can contribute greatly to enhance the palatability of meat products, but its kokumi that ties it all togetherwedding the five tastes (salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami) into a more balanced, rounded and expansive flavor profile that is simply more delicious than before. Kokumi is what happens during the food-aging process, as well as during the rather time-consuming stewing process, where proteins are broken down into smaller forms, called peptides, he says. It is these peptides that deliver the richness, roundness and overall improvement to the product.

Marinades are one of the best ways to impart flavor into meat, suggests Andrew Hunter, foodservice and industrial chef, Kikkoman Sales, USA, Inc., San Francisco. Marinades, especially those that use naturally brewed soy sauce as a base, impart umami characteristics into the meat, he says. Soy sauce can give an Asian profile, but it doesnt have to. Typically, if youre building a formula and if youre at the mid 2% or less, you get umami characteristics without the soy flavors. Much higher than that and you can start tasting the soy sauce, he says.

Marination provides textural qualities, as well as improved flavor. The base of many marinades is simply a solution of water, salt and phosphate, says Schoenberg. This allows the meat proteins to increase their water-binding capability, resulting in increased juiciness and improved texture. Seasonings are frequently added to the marination brine to impart specific profiles, and strengthen and characterize the flavor. Meat tenderizers also help to provide juicier texture and overall flavor of the meat enhancement.

Warsow points out that savory herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano pair well with roasted meats, because they add a very good top note to the savory meat base notes. Think of a roasted turkey without the addition of thyme or sage. Yes, it will be savory, but it is so much better with an herbal top note.

Similarly, pot-roast flavor is enhanced through roasting the meat with carrots, celery and onionsa mirepoix. Meat flavors can be given a depth of character by adding this base note to the meat flavor, says Warsow.

Slow-roasting meats causes a number of changes in flavor. More-economical cuts cooked with slow heat can become very tender and flavorful because of structural changes to the meat proteins, says Warsow. During slow, moist-heat cookery, connective tissue breaks down into gelatin. Gelatin is obviously not as tough as cartilage, and it gives the meat a moist and flavorful mouthfeel.

Manufactured reaction flavors are sharp shooters that provide a specific note to precooked meat products. When manufacturers have difficulty providing specific flavor attributes to their products because of limitation in their process, they can add a reaction flavor to their flavoring system, says Warsow. It is often difficult to get a quality seared note in a commercially available pot-roast-type product, because you cant pan-sear every piece of meat that goes through your process. It is possible to add a rub or seasoning to the meat prior to cooking to impart a seared note.

During the manufacture, processing and storage of convenience foods, losses and changes in flavor occur. To have consumer-acceptable flavor of the finished food often requires addition of flavors during manufacturing, says Patel. These flavors are available in a wide variety of profiles to replicate meat, cooking methods and culinary attributes. These flavors can be brothy, roasted, grilled, aged-meat-type, dripping notes, or fried in profile, and can also provide the flavor of freshly cooked food. Additionally, flavors can provide convenience and consistency to the foods, which would be difficult to replicate or produce in commercial quantities, such as grilled, roasted, smoked or with dripping notes.

Pan describes the meat flavor-development process thus: Imagine a tree with no branches or leaves, but just a pole. Well call it a beef flavor. I have the various branches on the tree. If we are creating a hamburger-type flavor, my first goal would be adding a fatty notei.e., 2,4-decadienal. If we need a cooking-process notesuch as bloody as opposed to well donewe have an array of sulfur molecules and furanones that will create these individual notes as a branch on the tree. This creative process continues on with fecal notes or sweet brown notes or meaty notes until we have the right balance for the customers project.

The shelves in my lab contain approximately 1,000 aromatic chemicals, essential oils and extracts, Pan says. Thats quite a large box of crayons to paint a picture with.

Cindy Hazen, a 20-year veteran of the food industry, is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She can be reached at [email protected].


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