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Food Product Design: Cover - December 2004 - “Meating” Consumer ExpectationsFood Product Design: Cover - December 2004 - “Meating” Consumer Expectations

December 1, 2004

34 Min Read
Food Product Design: Cover - December 2004 - “Meating” Consumer Expectations

December 2004
Cover Story

"Meating" Consumer Expectations

By R. J. Foster
Contributing Editor   For as long as anyone can remember, carnivores have roamed the planet. Some entrepreneurial cave dwellers most certainly saw a need to improve upon the meat they ate, making it more tasty, simple to prepare or easier to eat. One could imagine that Fred Flintstone's brontosaurus ribs were the first value-added meats -- portioned, marinated and seasoned with "Zogg's Better Bronto Sauce." But technology has come a long way from the rack that tipped old Fred's car over at the drive-in, giving rise to myriad products and processes that have revolutionized the production, preparation and consumption of all types of meat items. Water, water everywhere
Looking at today's definition of value-added meats, water immediately springs to mind. And why not? Water is easy to find, it does not interact adversely with most other ingredients, there are numerous ways to add water to products and the price is attractive. Water adds value for the processor by increasing weight without increasing cost and the consumer by providing more-moist, foolproof products for the less-kitchen-savvy consumer. One of the most common ways to add water and other aqueous-based ingredients to meats is via tumbling. Combining the processes of tenderizing and marinating, tumbling mixes meat and marinade in a rotating tank fitted with raised fins or a single fin that spirals around the tank from top to bottom. The force of the pieces dropping onto and rolling over one another loosens the muscles, opening up space for moisture to be held and exposing proteins that will hold the added moisture. Tumbling also serves as a means of distributing solution that has been added to meat by injection. Pioneering the concept of injection, old-time ham processors would sometimes use a process called "artery pumping" to disperse curing agents. This method forced liquid into the meat via the vessels that once transported blood into the muscle. Modern injection systems range from single banks holding 18 needles to multiple banks housing many needles each. Advanced systems allow control over every facet of the process, providing the ability to optimize each specific manufacturer's needs. Injection and tumbling processes are frequently, but not always, used in conjunction. When adding low levels of moisture, 5% to 25% of the meat's weight, manufacturers can often use tumbling alone. This is especially true with thin meat products, or when mixing small chunks together for a formed item. If the pieces are too thick, solution can accumulate in the outermost layers of the meat, resulting in variation of ingredient levels in different portions of the final product. If using a tumble-only process for larger items, consider macerating -- cutting into the surface of the pieces to expose more of the meat to the action of the tumbler and the solution. This will facilitate improved absorption throughout the meat. Injection is ideal for adding higher amounts of solution (more than 25% of the meat's weight). Solution is added directly into the meat, eliminating the need to rely on adequate penetration with tumbling alone. Optimizing the injection process provides maximum distribution, reducing the time needed in the tumbler to completely disperse the moisture and flavor components. Needles can clog if not cleaned effectively and if materials in a heavy, high-solids brine precipitate or build up. Many injectors will pull from the bottom of their brine reservoir, and settled materials might be drawn into the needles. Therefore, insoluble products added to brines must be super-fine-mesh to minimize settling once they disperse. Processors generally add insoluble spices and seasonings to the tumbler or apply them as a rub before packaging. If a brine temperature increases, brines with gums, starches or proteins might gain viscosity, which can slow the amount of brine delivered through the needles within a given set of injection parameters. Use low injection pressures if there is a possibility of disrupting the structure of the product. Also, more-frequent injections facilitate more-immediate distribution of solution in items that will not be tumbled. Beef products, for example, should be tumbled cautiously, if at all, as overtumbling can quickly result in a rubbery finished-product texture. If tumbling a beef item, keep the rotation speed low and the overall time short. On the other extreme, manufacturers can safely tumble softer products with high solution-addition rates until every last drop of solution is absorbed. Rock beats ... water?
Derived from phosphate rock, calcium fluroapatite (Ca5(PO4)3F) phosphates are processed into many forms with varying characteristics and effects on the meat systems to which they are added. The primary reason for using phosphates is to improve water-holding capacity, the amount of moisture a piece of meat can maintain. The water-holding capacity varies with the muscle pH. Post-slaughter, muscles' pH drops from around 7.2 to 5.3 to 5.7, right around the isoelectric point of the meat, about pH 5.4. In this state of neutral charge, muscle fibers are very close together, squeezing out moisture and leaving no room for added moisture. Adding positive or negative charges creates repulsion of the muscle fibers, sometimes referred to as "protein swelling," that creates space in which water can be held. It is also believed that some sodium phosphates, particularly the shorter-chain pyrophosphates, loosen tightened muscles by chelating divalent ions that form cross-bridges between the muscle proteins, actin and myosin, which leads to post-slaughter contraction. This process would also improve water retention. Phosphates are limited to 0.50% (finished-product basis) in meat products. Much-lower levels, however, can provide benefit. Addition of 0.25% sodium tripolyphosphate to a 15% pump product will improve solution uptake, providing a drier appearance in the uncooked product, and a juicier cooked item. Phosphate blends can also provide multiple benefits within a given pH range or set of processing parameters. Regardless of the type or blend of phosphates chosen, take care during use. Phosphates should be mixed with water before any other ingredients and allowed to dissolve completely before progressing to the remaining solution ingredients. Hydrocolloid helpers
Extracted from seaweed, carrageenans are available in three basic forms that differ in the number of negative charges present. Generally, only the iota and kappa carrageenans are used in meat applications. Kappa carrageenans possess a single negatively charged sulfite group per bend in their long polysaccharide backbone. Sparse amounts of like-charges allow the chains to come together very tightly, yielding a rigid gel. Although very strong in the cold state, kappa-carrageenan gels are thermoreversible and will melt upon heating. This permits, for example, even slicing of a pumped turkey breast when cold. However, during consumption, the gels instantly melt due to the increased heat of the mouth. Iota carrageenans have two negative charges per bend, resulting in more repulsion between chains and a more-soft, more-pliable gel. Like kappa, iota gels are also thermoreversible. Unlike the kappa, however, iota carrageenans swell in cold conditions, thickening the solution in which they are dispersed. Iota gels are also less prone to syneresis, or weeping, as there is more space between the chains where water can reside. This characteristic can be utilized by blending kappa and iota carrageenans together to create a range of gel strengths with some measure of syneresis prevention. With three sulfite groups, lambda carrageenans do not gel, but will swell and thicken solutions. Although carrageenans were considered too expensive for many meat applications in the past, James Lamkey, global technical manager, meat division, FMC BioPolymer, Philadelphia, indicates that improvements in their processing, as well as in meat-processing systems, have made carrageenans very economical from a cost-in-use standpoint. "For products with up to 20% weight gain," he suggests, "as little as 0.20% carrageenan can improve surface dryness of a tumbled product and reduce moisture loss in cooked products." Improved moisture control is possible in products that have upward of 65% weight gain using 0.50% carrageenan. Although more-commonly used in poultry and cured-pork items, carrageenans can be effectively applied to beef items, especially in the foodservice area. "Addition of 0.20% to 0.30% carrageenan to a beef roast," notes Lamkey, "will help maintain the product's moisture through a long holding time." Another seaweed-derived hydrocolloid enjoying renewed interest in the meat industry is alginate. Unlike the carrageenans that gel after heat-driven solubilization and cooling, alginates gel when calcium forms bridges between the alginate chains. This gelation can occur instantly when exposed to a calcium source. Careful selection of a calcium source and buffer, however, can provide processors with a means of controlling the reaction. Lamkey points to ongoing research in the use of alginates in ground poultry: "Alginates may be used to create a more-palatable texture in mechanically deboned poultry (MDP) products, allowing developers to use more MDP without creating a soft or mushy finished-product texture. Alginates can also be used to create an intact chunk for use in stews or soups." The alginate gel's heat stability helps the chunks retain their shape through heat processing. Versatile starches
In meat systems, starches increase water holding and reduce purge, improve emulsion stability, and improve texture or mouthfeel. Made from corn, rice, potato, tapioca and a host of other raw materials, these carbohydrates provide different functionalities based on their origins and processing. Starches contain varying ratios of two molecules. Amylose is a straight-chain molecule with a structure similar to cellulose's except at the number-one and number-four carbons. The amylose link is flexible, the cellulose link is not, making amylose digestible and cellulose indigestible. Amylopectin is a branched chain that is larger in overall size than amylose, but much shorter in glucose chain length (25 to 30 glucose units versus 500 to 2,000 glucose units). Differing amounts of each component will affect the characteristics of the starch in the final product. Chemical modification can improve a starch's stability in processing systems. Cross-linking introduces chemical compounds that fortify the hydrogen bonds in the starch granules. Reinforcing the starch makes it less susceptible to rupture, and subsequent loss of functionality, due to overcooking. This "rupture protection" also covers shear that could be encountered in high-speed cutting or grinding processes. Upon standing and/or cooling, some starches will undergo increases in viscosity and/or gelling, a process called retrogradation or setback. Stabilizing the starch introduces a blocking group that inhibits setback, thus reducing syneresis and improving freeze/thaw stability, as well as other textural attributes, in the finished product. Stabilizing also reduces the temperatures at which the starches reach peak functionality, an important effect to consider when adding starches to meat systems. Physically modifying starches facilitates their use under certain conditions. Pregelatinization is a general term for precooking a starch and drying it for use as an "instant" thickener. Drum-drying a prepared starch slurry is one method for this process. Instant starches have been developed to provide a range of bodies, textures and viscosities. Starches can be applied, alone or in conjunction with other ingredients, such as carrageenan or soy protein, to many types of meat items -- except ham, where only starches are permitted. In water-added ham, modified food starches are limited by regulation to 2.0% usage rates. Modified food starches are limited by flavor impact to about 3.5% in other meat products. High levels of starch can mask flavors, and even impart chalky or pasty tastes. With so many advances in the technology of starch products, developers are able to achieve the desired effects without exceeding the flavor-affecting limits. Long hailed by processors for their high water-holding capacity and unique film-forming properties, recent advancements have created exciting new applications for potato starches. Dan Brennan, director of sales, Penford Food Ingredients, Englewood, CO, describes a new product for creating the appearance and texture of fat in reduced-fat meat items. "A combination of cooked potato starch and water sets in a gel form after curing in our plant," he says. "The gel can then be ground into whatever particle size is desired by the customer." Addition of the ground gel allows processors to reduce overall fat levels without sacrificing much in the way of taste and texture. This concept presents an interesting option for fat reduction in sausage products; formed-poultry items, such as chicken nuggets; and ground-meat systems, such as beef patties, for foodservice or cafeteria environments. Applying the same type of technology used in coating French fries, Penford has developed a clear coating system that utilizes modified starches and dextrins for poultry items, such as chicken wings and whole chicken breasts. Meat is coated with the special "batter," and then par-fried to set the coating. Processors can coordinate with their blenders to add spices or flavors that would be locked in place by the par-frying step. This system is well suited for marinated and fully cooked items, as well as ready-to-cook products. By sealing in moisture and minimizing losses during cooking and holding, that last chicken breast on the buffet and that last hot wing in a customer's basket can maintain juiciness. "This innovative ingredient system," says Brennan, "meets the coating needs of our customers by delivering higher cooked yields, added crispiness and optional flavor delivery." Soy meets meat
Soy proteins offer numerous benefits in the area of enhanced meat products. "Soy protein isolates and concentrates allow meat products to have optimized marination/brine levels and high succulence in high-abuse circumstances, such as freezing, precooking, microwaving from frozen and extended hold time after cooking," says Al Gallegos, director of new product development, The Solae Company, St. Louis. Processed soy proteins come in several basic forms. Grinding and screening dehulled and defatted soybean flakes produces soy flour. At about 50% protein by weight, soy flours will contain some carbohydrates, fiber and oligosaccharides -- soluble carbohydrates, like raffinose and stachyose, that give flours a "beany" flavor. On the other end of the protein-level spectrum lie soy protein isolates. Starting with soy flakes, isolates are prepared by a process of extraction and precipitation that utilizes minimum heat. The resulting product is nearly carbohydrate- and fat-free, with approximately 90% protein. Soy protein concentrates were initially developed as a midpoint between low-protein flours that affected the flavor of the product and high-protein, bland-tasting, expensive isolates. Concentrates' protein level, about 70%, and bland taste are both improvements over flours. Soy concentrates were improved upon, however, with the creation of functional concentrates. These fourth-generation proteins offer functionality similar to isolates, with high dietary fiber and more-economical cost. Functional soy protein concentrates and isolated soy proteins can improve marinade retention, increase cooking and slicing yields, reduce moisture loss during freeze/ thaw cycles, and enhance firmness and meatlike texture in whole-muscle products, according to Lamont Mease, director of applied technology, The Solae Company. The proteins will also retain moisture through multiple heating cycles or extended holding periods on serving lines. "This effect results in improved succulence and finished-product palatability," he says. Limiting factors include products with standards of identity, such as certain sausages and ham, or flavor consequences at inclusion rates around 2%. Dry-powder forms are easily incorporated into liquid brines, pickling solutions and marinades for injection or tumble marination. Manufacturers prepare textured products by running soy flour or soy concentrates through an extrusion cooker. The resulting products can be formed into many different configurations, such as flakes, chunks and crumbles. In ground-meat systems, textured soy proteins can bind fat and water while maintaining a meatlike texture and improving cook yields and moisture management. Finished product handling will affect the choice of proteins. "Textured soy protein concentrates are better suited to precooked items that will undergo subsequent reheating than are textured soy flours, which tend to lose their texture if subjected to more than one cooking process," says Mease. "Additionally, textured soy protein concentrates typically impart less soy flavor than textured soy flours, which still contain both soluble and insoluble carbohydrate fractions." Formulating emulsified products with soy proteins will help bind water and stabilize fat. In addition, isolated soy proteins' gelling properties can improve the texture of items formulated with less-functional raw materials. "Improved moisture and fat stability often result in higher cook yields and increased product juiciness, especially when held on a hot serving line or roller grill," adds Mease. For almost 60 million Americans, products like chicken nuggets and strips, country-fried steak, and mozzarella-cheese sticks are excluded by carbohydrate-conscious diets. Gallegos describes a new soy-based, high-protein coating system comprised of four parts: preduster, batter, breading and a clear coating. "This variety of products allows breading or food manufacturers to add their own special seasoning recipes and deliver complete meal solutions to their customers with either a 'crunchy' or 'flour-type' breading." Providing a high-protein, low-carb coated item allows foodservice operators the flexibility to add side dishes or sauces, without pushing the meal out of reach of consumers seeking weight-management solutions. Eat more wheat
Wheat proteins provide good textural-enhancement properties with a very bland taste. Textured wheat proteins are available in many sizes and shapes, ranging from granules to larger pieces that deliver a fibrous appearance and texture. Larger-sized materials require processors to hydrate the dried pieces, and then mechanically cut to extract the individual fibers and reduce the protein material to a size and shape that best suits the application. Recent developments have yielded a new form of textured wheat described by Steve Ham, director of marketing-specialty ingredients, MGP Ingredients, Inc., Atchison, KS, as a "preshredded dry product that need only be hydrated before use, saving processors steps that were required previously." The product is available in different colors for inconspicuous blending with poultry, pork, beef or seafood. Glenn DeMeritt, applications scientist for MGP, notes that while well suited to formed products, like nuggets and patties, the primary applications for these products are shredded items, such as barbecue meats. "The products perform well in many Latin items, such as carnitas and taquitos, which rely on an authentic, shredded texture," he says. Replacing a portion of the meat in a formulation allows developers to reduce overall cost without sacrificing overall product appearance or texture. Usage levels are often dictated by regulations or standards of identity, all of which state minimum amounts of a given meat type required for labeling. Typically, preshredded proteins are used at 3% to 3½% (dry basis) for the shredded items mentioned. Applications utilizing lower-quality raw materials can also benefit from these products. "Adding the shredded material to formed products made with mechanically deboned meats and fats creates a more-palatable texture in the finished item," says DeMeritt. The texturizing effect can also be applied to seafood items, such as formed crab cakes. "Very finely cut protein shreds can be used to replace a portion of the expensive seafood material while maintaining the texture consumers expect," says DeMeritt, noting that wheat proteins' bland taste can reduce the amount of spices often needed to mask the taste of other commonly used protein extenders. An array of flavors
Improving the taste of a meat item can be done on many levels. A quick glance of almost anyone's spice rack will reveal salt, black pepper and garlic -- items familiar to most consumers. These three basic flavoring agents can be combined with water and phosphate to create a simple spice-rack marinade that imparts a subtle -- yet notable -- flavor, while maintaining a juicy texture through baking or grilling. However, working within consumers' familiarity is becoming more difficult. Bruce Armstrong, research & development manager, meat and poultry seasonings, Kerry Americas, Waukesha, WI, notes that while Southwestern and Hispanic flavor profiles continue to be popular, consumers' tastes are changing. Whether it's dinners on vacation or a curious trip to the newly opened ethnic restaurant in the neighborhood, consumers are trying exotic foods from around the world. The result is increased demand for these unique tastes at home. Most adults have probably eaten Chinese food at some point. Looking outside of the little white box, we can find numerous other Asian tastes that are becoming popular. "Asian" often generically describes Chinese and Japanese flavor profiles. Generally speaking, these utilize flavorings commonly found in Asian cooking -- like ginger, garlic, soy sauce, pepper, lemon or lime, sesame, coriander, and poultry stock -- to produce a full-bodied, savory character. However, consumers' taste buds have evolved to embrace more-specific Asian flavors. Processors looking for a spicy kick to the familiar Asian-type flavors could consider the flavors of Thailand. Characterized by the addition of coconut milk, lemon grass and chiles, the Thai flavor profile brings a spicy-sweet taste accent to its Asian counterparts. Armstrong suggests that another Asian cuisine, Vietnamese, is rapidly gaining popularity in the United States. Infusing characteristics of French cuisine, Vietnamese profiles utilize lighter, fruitier flavors -- especially lemon -- to create a milder flavor and aroma than other Asian cuisines. Another foreign flavor catching on around the world is the so-called "Sub-Asian," Indian flavor, exemplified in the unique condiment called tikka. "Unlike the heavier taste of typical curries," notes Armstrong, "tikka utilizes similar flavors -- garlic, cumin, turmeric -- in a savory yogurt base." The result is a distinctive sauce that rivals ketchup in the United Kingdom. "Although currently used as a sauce or condiment," Armstrong continues, "this unique taste could easily be adapted for use as a marinade for ready-to-cook meats, like poultry or pork." Long on taste, short on time
For many consumers, added value means saving time on preparation. The problem is that while consumers want an item that moves quickly from freezer or refrigerator to the table, they do not want to give up the taste and appearance of a long, slow-cooking process. Cooking has numerous effects on meat. Louis-Camille Maillard discovered that as meat is exposed to heat, proteins denature and interact with sugars that are present. These Maillard-reaction products are the "meaty" flavors and aromas we associate with cooked meat. Because this reaction also produces a brown color, it is often referred to as "the browning reaction." Modern scientists have studied these reaction products in depth, identifying as many as 600 components in the aroma of beef. It is clear that as cooking progresses, the Maillard reaction is responsible for the many nuances of flavor that carnivores crave. Consumers are not as interested in the science of the meats in their grocery store's case, though, as they are in the preparation time. Demand for rich-tasting products in a hurry has given rise to many new types of flavoring systems, as well as new methods for using existing technologies. The trick here is to mimic the results of traditional cooking methods in modern processing systems for quick home preparation. One combination of flavorful browning and preparation convenience finds application in premarinated, preseasoned, bagged meat, where the consumer just sticks it in the oven. "It is now possible to cook items in bags and achieve an oven-browned look directly out of the bag," says Jeff Rozum, technology development manager, Red Arrow Products Company, Manitowoc, WI. The company's browning agents facilitate the "oven-browned" look that goes hand-in-hand with savory flavor. And these applications aren't limited to the consumer arena. The bagged approach "allows processors the ability to steam cook, increasing yield and allowing for better microbial control," he continues. Smokin' flavor
The image of farm-fresh meat, hanging in a smokehouse for hours, bathed in the dense vapor of smoldering hardwood, makes any self-respecting meat-eater's mouth water. Whether a heavy hickory or a subtle mesquite, smoking brings not only the taste of smoke, but also carbonyls -- the component in smoke that reacts with proteins under hot conditions to yield the browning and flavoring effects of the Maillard reaction. It is possible, though, to create many of the flavor attributes of traditional smoking using natural-smoke flavors. Available in many forms, oil-based smoke flavors present a particularly interesting option for marinated meats. Preparation of an oil-based smoke flavor yields a more-mellow taste than is seen in aqueous- and dry-smoke products. Browning elements and acetic acid are also left behind in the extraction process, resulting in a flavor that has no "bite" and no coloring effects. Oil-based smoke can be incorporated into a marinade for application by tumbling, without fear of staining the uncooked meat as can occur with aqueous and dry smokes. And despite the appearance of separation when moving the marinade to the tumbler, agitation during tumbling will thoroughly disperse the oil and ensure uniform distribution of the smoke flavor throughout the meat. Marinated products can be packaged and held refrigerated or frozen without adversely affecting the smoke flavor. Low usage levels, around 0.05%, will yield a light-smoky taste in every bite, with a subtle, yet notable, smoky aroma that's sure to conjure up the image of the old smokehouse. Smoke flavors should also be considered when working on regional and ethnic products. Many of these "old-world" meats rely not only on the blends of spices, but also on flavors that develop during traditional, outdoor, open-fire-type cooking. Mesquite smoke, for example, is an excellent choice for creating a rich, fire-roasted flavor in products made by modern systems. Firing up the grill
The sounds and smells of meats sizzling away over a hot bed of coals bring to mind the great outdoors, picnics and gatherings of family and friends. And while these are all fair-weather times, consumers' craving for grilled goods does not stop when it rains, or when the grill is buried beneath a blanket of snow. Luckily, food scientists have a growing understanding of the technology of what makes a product taste grilled. As meat sits on a grate above hot coals, it experiences similar changes to those in a conventional oven. The manner and rate at which these reactions occur are different, though, as the surface of the meat can be in direct contact with the flame. Charring is a characteristic that might or might not be desirable, depending on the product and the target audience. In addition, the grate on which the meat rests allows juices from the meat to drip down onto the coals. These materials are quickly vaporized, causing the volatile components to rise back up to the meat surface. Both of these work at differing levels, depending on the type of grilling procedure used, to create an almost limitless array of "grilled" tastes. Developers working on creating a grilled flavor need also consider the grills themselves. Is your target a charcoal or propane grill? If it's charcoal, does it use lighter fluid? These factors will also affect the flavor of products, resulting in a wide range of definitions for the term "grilled flavor." Grill-flavor technology is based on mimicking the dripping and volatilizing process that happens on the grill. Using specialized systems similar to those used to create smoke flavors, oils can be heated to the point where the inherent taste is modified. The resulting oil-based flavor imparts the taste and smell of an average charcoal grill. These flavors can then be spray-dried to provide grilled taste in a powder form. Different types of oils yield varying flavors. Initial offerings by grill-flavor suppliers utilized soybean and cottonseed oils as raw materials, which produce hearty, grill tastes with a notable "lighter fluid" note. Using sunflower oil instead of soybean and/or cottonseed results in a milder grill flavor, with dramatically reduced "lighter-fluid" impact. Sunflower oil also eliminates potential GMO concerns that can arise with soybean- and cottonseed-oil-based products. Combining oils can bring a subtle, meaty character to the grill flavor, giving a grilled-meat-type of taste. This can be useful in systems utilizing lower-quality raw materials or elevated water-addition levels, as well as in combination products where the taste of meats can be diluted or lost in a mixture with vegetables or sauce. It is important to realize that "grilling" refers to items cooked at temperatures greater than 275F, typically without humidity beyond what the meat provides. On the other hand, "barbecue" refers to the process of slowly cooking at temperatures ranging from 175 to 225F, usully with water pans to elevate the humidity in the cooker, and in the presence of smoke. Combinations of smoke and grill flavors provide more-complex tastes than either flavor alone, giving processors additional options for recreating the taste of barbecue in conventionally cooked and rapidly prepared items. Optimization of the various nuances that affect "grilled" taste has yielded many innovative flavorings. Developers can choose from an array of products designed to emulate very specific cooking processes, styles and conditions. Specialized grill flavors exist that provide the rich taste of charcoal grilling, as well as the subtle nuances of gas- grilling. Yan Zheng, associate principal scientist, Kraft Food Ingredients (KFI), Memphis, TN, describes one unique family of grill flavors as "providing not only the authentic flavor from the grilling process, but also the additional flavors associated with campfire or wood-fire cooking." Well suited for use in a variety of meat applications, Zheng suggests usage rates as low as 0.25% for liquid and 0.50% for powder forms. Further development has occurred in the area of blending the taste effects of grill with other flavors. Adding a fruit flavor to a grill flavor for a meat product might sound a little far fetched. However, Zachary Sanders, senior research scientist for KFI, suggests otherwise. Product developers can add new grilled-raspberry flavors to rubs for pork or chicken at 1% to 3% to create a unique flavor effect with a clean, subtle, grilled taste. "It can also be used in glazes for hams to give a new approach instead of the traditional pineapple or apple flavors typically associated with ham," he notes. Grill and other flavors can also help improve the flavor of further-processed applications. "Grill and roast flavors are very good for reducing or eliminating warmed-over flavor in reheated meats, making them taste freshly prepared," says Rozum. The taste of the great indoors
Unlike grilling, where distinctive taste effects are concentrated toward the surface of a meat item, oven baking or roasting creates many levels of depth and richness -- what many refer to as "savory" flavor. But what is "savory" flavor? A wise old spice guy I know once told me that "most tastes -- salt, sweet, bitter, sour -- strike the outer edges of the tongue. Savory notes fill in the space in the middle." Savory encompasses many flavors and effects that round-out the overall taste of a product. As technologists try to recreate the savory depth and richness in value-added products, they turn to ingredients as simple as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and as complicated as multiple-ingredient reaction flavors. Reaction-flavor scientists optimize many variables in the development of meat flavors. Proteins from meat sources, such as muscle, skin or fat; autolyzed yeast extracts; and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, will all yield differing meat-flavor profiles. Additional amino acids are also used to create certain characteristic meat flavors as well as enhance meat flavors. Sugars react with the different amino acids to create different types of final flavors. In general, more-reactive sugars, like ribose and xylose, are good for creating beef-type flavors, while less-reactive sugars are better for obtaining chicken- or pork-type notes. Sugar level is also important, as higher amounts can produce burnt notes. Selection of solvents, reaction processes and even pH will all affect the many nuances sought for these complex flavoring agents. Controlling the browning reaction during flavor production can be very important. Darker colors developed during production can exclude a flavor's application to lightly colored meats as they could negatively affect the appearance of the final product. Andrew Bosch, creative flavorist for KFI, describes low-color roast flavors as having "more universal use in applications such as white-meat poultry." Bosch goes on to describe additional developments lately in the depth and broadness of roast-flavor profiles: "Before, roast flavor contained mainly brown notes and some savory notes. Now, roast has the traditional brown and savory notes, but it will also contain some skin, sweet, char and fatty notes." Flavors such as these are ideal for a tumbled, ready-to-cook or heat-and-eat item. Roast flavor "rebuilds" the savory depth lost in processing, freezing and storage, giving a freshly oven-cooked taste to products on the kitchen, as well as steam, table. And by utilizing specialized flavor notes, processors are better able to tailor a product to meet the specific needs of a given market, region or time of year. Extra shelf time
Time saved in preparation is not the only type of "value" in value-added meats. With more emphasis on food safety than ever before, developers are wise to consider every possible option for improving safety and extending the shelf life of meat products. Researchers have focused on lactates in recent months for their ability to control foodborne pathogens, including Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and E. coli 1057:H7. Sodium or potassium salts of L(+) lactic acid are neutral in pH; have a mild, saline taste; and are naturally present in meats. Addition of lactates affects the microbial stability of meat products by lowering water activity (aw) and feeding undissociated lactic acid into cells. This causes the cells to expend their energy toward equilibration instead of growth. A feedback mechanism could also block energy production by the elevated concentration of lactate outside of the cell. Meat processors have used lactates for shelf-life extension for over 20 years. In the early 1990s, lactates became the focus of significant research in the area of pathogen control, starting with tests to demonstrate lactate's ability to control Clostridium in uncooked, uncured anaerobically packaged poultry products. Researchers also revealed a synergy between lactate and diacetate, another powerful antimicrobial agent, used to control Listeria in ready-to-eat (RTE) items. The combination was a significant discovery because diacetate alone is not effective below 0.20% -- the level at which a strong vinegar taste begins to arise. "For several years, a few of the industry leaders have been using combinations of lactate and diacetate as a bacteriostat for Listeria in RTE products," says Haley Walls, senior market development specialist, meat and poultry, PURAC America, Lincolnshire, IL. "The development of the FSIS Listeria Rule in 2003 encouraged U.S. processors to address Listeria control in RTE meat and poultry products." Lactates are easily incorporated into product formulations, and are applicable to both cooked and fresh meat products. "For cooked products," suggests Walls, "lactate is used primarily as a shelf-life extender and to control pathogens, such as Listeria and Clostridium. In most cases, a combination of lactate and diacetate is used in these products at levels ranging between 2.0% to 3.5% of product weight." Fresh products present an even greater need for shelf-life extension. Every additional day provides value to retailers, and safety for consumers. "The use of lactate at 2.0% to 3.3% in uncooked products can achieve 30% to 50% extension of shelf life," says Walls. Lactates also can stabilize red color, an especially interesting function for fresh, pumped-beef products. "PURAC has recently been involved in research where 2.5% potassium lactate in an enhanced-beef product, pumped to 9.0%, resulted in a less-shiny surface and 200% increase in color stability compared to a control," she continues. The only application not suited to lactates and diacetates is fermented items, where an antimicrobial agent would inhibit the acid development of lactic-acid bacteria. Products acidified with encapsulated acids or a slow acidifier, such as glucono-delta-lactone, however, could utilize these antimicrobials without harm. As noted earlier, lactates and diacetates adversely affect delicate flavor systems, such as bland poultry. One solution is a flavor-enhanced blend of lactate and diacetate. Walls notes that a blend that contains a meat flavor enhancer would significantly improve the flavor effect of the blend in bland products. A new bacteriostat from Spain has highly effective antimicrobial activity against a broad range of pathogens, bacteria, molds and yeasts. The discovered molecule, lauric arginate, alters cell membranes without provoking lysis, thus preventing cell reproduction. Working independently of pH, the bacteriostat is suited to neutral items, such as meats. Suspended in propylene glycol, it can be dispersed into water at 5% and applied topically as a bath or spray prior to packaging. Incorporation by tumbling is also possible -- if added during the final minutes of the process at 0.10% to 0.15% (finished basis). It is rapidly broken down by the human digestive tract into its components: lauric acid, arginine and ethyl alcohol. "The product is self-affirmed GRAS, and currently in the process of gaining USDA approval," says Gil Bakal, managing director, A&B Ingredients, Fairfield, NJ. Bakal estimates the new shelf-life extender will be available to the U.S. meat industry within six months. More than just bugs
Microbial stability is not the only concern when looking at shelf life. Uncooked products, refrigerated as well as frozen, can undergo changes in appearance, aroma and cooked flavor during storage. These changes will ultimately affect the cooked item, resulting in uneven or undesirable off flavors and appearance. Ron Ratz, technical product manager for Wixon, Inc., St. Francis, WI, describes a new technology that utilizes a natural flavor to address several of these concerns simultaneously. "Studies have shown that this product reduces the production of certain compounds believed to be associated with off flavor and aroma, isovaleraldehyde and phenol," he notes, "thus preserving the intended savory profile of the item beyond the original shelf life." The flavor can also mask off notes associated with certain extenders and antimicrobial agents. Available in water-soluble and dry forms, this product can be incorporated into seasoning blends, marinades or injection solutions. "Adding 0.25% to a fresh sausage," says Ratz, "maintained a freshly prepared appearance long after the control product developed rancid flavor and off color. When cooked, the control exhibited off aromas and rancid taste, while the test product was more desirable when prepared." Ratz also indicates that the power of this ingredient extends beyond moisture-enhanced products. "Oil-fried items can pick up oxidized notes from the oil in which they are cooked. Addition of this unique flavoring to a coating system prevents the onset of these oxidized notes as the product ages." Looking at the various technologies available today, it is not surprising that sometimes we address one concern and create a new one. Ratz points to flavoring systems designed to eliminate the negative effects of various ingredients. Specialized flavor systems can reduce the metallic character of potassium-based salt substitutes used in reduced-sodium items with as little as 0.15% addition. Others can reduce the saltiness perception in a product, allowing more of the inherent taste of the meat to come through without sacrificing the benefits of sodium chloride addition, such as improved water-holding capacity and microbial stability. Technologies of processing, moisture management and flavoring have become almost as complex as the ever-changing tastes of modern meat consumers. And while it's difficult to know where technology will take us next, it's a safe bet that consumers that will dictate the route.   R. J. Foster has over a decade of experience in research & development and technical service in the food industry. He is a freelance writer specializing in technical communications, and can be reached at [email protected].
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