Health, convenience and cleaner labels are key factors in consumer eating preferences. Manufacturers need to offer many options in order to meet the demands of consumers; all of which may have different preferences depending on their gender, age and living situation.
While some people still prefer to make their meals at home, others prefer the convenience of buying an already prepared meal at the local market or nearby restaurant, or even having a meal delivered to them and then just heating the already prepared dish. This can create many challenges from a processing, storage and packaging standpoint.
Also top of mind for consumers is their health. Looking for healthier options can mean enjoying leaner cuts of meat and poultry or replacing meat and poultry with seafood in meal preparation. This can create different oxidation challenges depending on the fat content and cuts of meat.
Interest in eating healthier though, does not mean they want to eat less flavourful foods; in fact, it is more important than ever to provide a wide array of flavours and global cuisines. While taste is critical, the shift to foods with cleaner label options continues to grow in importance in the mind of consumers.
Extending shelf-life in meat and poultry products while offering cleaner label options have resulted in the industry searching for new ways to improve shelf-life while maintaining flavour and colour stability. Adding a synthetic ingredient to a food product to gain extended shelflife is often the most cost-effective and easiest way for manufacturers to gain extended shelf-life.
But, consumer preference for simpler ingredients has made this solution less preferred, and manufacturers are now more oftenly using natural antioxidants, derived from spices and herbs, in place of synthetics such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ).
According to Innova Market Insights, one of every five global new product introductions currently makes the claim of “No Additives and Preservatives”. So how can this balance of taste, price and healthiness be successfully accomplished for the benefit of the consumer?
Since ancient times, herbs and spices have been used for food and medicinal applications and have proven to be excellent sources of antioxidants. Research has shown that spices and herbs such as sage, rosemary and oregano all exhibit strong antioxidant properties.
Of these three, rosemary extract has been the primary natural extract used as an antioxidant in the United States and Europe. Major active constitutes of rosemary are phenolic diterpenes such as carnosol and carnosic acid, and phenolic acids such as rosmarinic acid. These compounds donate hydrogen which in turn, quenches free radicals, resulting in a breaking of the chain reaction and decreasing the rate of oxidation.
Rosemary is one of the most favourable herbs to be used as an antioxidant in a wide range of food applications, including sauces, snack foods, and meat and poultry. When used in meat and poultry applications, the flavour and aroma of rosemary is often less objectionable than other spices and herbs and therefore is a good choice for use as an antioxidant.
However, to gain the advantage of added flavour protection and additional shelf-life, using a natural antioxidant that combines rosemary extract with other natural antioxidants has proven to be an effective clean label replacement for BHA, BHT, propyl gallate and TBHQ.
Common Quality Problems And Natural Solutions In Meat And Poultry Products
Meat Flavour Deterioration
Lipid oxidation in cooked meat and poultry results in undesirable off-flavour and off-aroma often described as “warmed-over flavour (WOF)” or “meat flavour deterioration (MFD).”
WOF is characterised by a loss of flavour quality and the development of off-flavours. Trained sensory panels use descriptors such as “cardboard-like,” “leftovers” or “damp dog hair” to define this objectionable odour and flavour.
Meat and poultry that has been cooked, refrigerated, and then reheated is most likely to suffer from MFD, but unacceptable flavour changes can also be detected after first time cooking of even minimally processed meat and poultry.
MFD is initiated during processing procedures such as grinding, cutting, freezing, tumbling and/or cooking. Iron released from meat pigments catalyses oxidative degradation of highly unsaturated lean tissue phospholipids.
This oxidative reaction differs from triglyceride oxidation (oxidation of fat tissue) in two ways: it takes place at an exponentially faster rate, and the off-flavours produced are different from typical rancid flavours. While off-flavours develop, rich meat flavours fade and are overwhelmed. This irreversible combination of flavour changes constitutes the worst form of MFD.
Inhibiting Meat Flavour Deterioration/ Warmed Over Flavour
Oxidation occurs rapidly, often within hours of processing. The early incorporation of ingredients which inhibit oxidation of tissue phospholipids and/or chelate liberated iron is effective in delaying the development of off-flavours and extending shelf-life.
Using a natural ingredient such as a standardised rosemary extract has proven effective in inhibiting lipid oxidation. In addition to inhibiting oxidative deterioration, the mild, complimentary flavour of rosemary extract can provide savoury background notes to your meat or poultry product.
Chicken And Turkey Products
Cooked chicken and turkey meat products are highly vulnerable to the development of oxidised flavour during storage. This ultimately influences acceptance of the product in providing a quality eating experience as well as repurchase decisions of consumers.
The convenience factor makes pre-cooked and ready-to eat meat products a preferred category. Also, since meat is such a good source of protein, it is often added by consumers as an ingredient during food preparation, in addition to being the main part of the meal.
However during preparation of the meal, maintaining flavour stability is critical, especially since cooked meats are highly susceptible to oxidative changes. Clean label natural antioxidants could mitigate such product quality issues in cooked meat products and prepared foods. Therefore, ensuring oxidative stability and flavour quality is critical in protecting the product and brand image.
While using a standard natural extract such as rosemary has been one option in the past, new industry developments show that by utilising an ingredient system that combines rosemary extract with other natural antioxidants, processors can limit WOF and aroma in fresh ground chicken breast patties.
Lean Red Meats
It is often thought that the total fat content in a product may be the sole factor influencing the development of oxidised aroma and flavour. Beef demonstrates a greater proportion of saturated fats in comparison to poultry.
Ground beef burgers/patties are also prone to WOF during storage. This primarily comes from the oxidation of the phospholipids in the muscle cell membrane, which are exposed during the grinding process. Utilising an ingredient system that combines rosemary and other natural extracts can result in extended shelf-life and flavour quality.
Managing Colour Change In Ground Poultry
Colour degradation is another consequence of oxidation in poultry and is a limiting factor in the shelf-life of many varieties of minimally processed poultry products. Ground and mechanically-separated poultry quickly turns from reddish-pink to a brownish-grey colour due to the oxidation of oxymyoglobin pigments to metmyoglobin pigments. This change is accelerated by exposure to light and temperatures typical of retail display conditions.
Addition and thorough distribution of a natural rosemary extract to ground poultry (by direct addition) and whole muscle (by way of marinades and injection solutions) can extend the shelf-life by effectively neutralising or quenching free radicals and inhibiting oxidation of oxymyoglobin pigments.
Natural Antioxidants: Finding The Best Solution For Your Applications
While it may seem difficult to determine which natural antioxidant is the best choice for your meat and poultry applications, rely on your ingredient supplier to help you navigate through the many choices.
A knowledgeable supplier will have an understanding of your industry and how their products work in your application and processing conditions. Based on years of research and development, they should be able to provide data that supports their claims as to how their antioxidant performs in various applications, under a range of processing conditions, and in conjunction with other ingredients. This includes analytical and sensory evaluations as to how their ingredients perform to maintain the colour and flavour of your products.
In addition, it is important that you trust your supplier and their ability to maintain inventories and supply consistent and reliable quality ingredients. They can add value by managing the complete process of ingredient development, overseeing the selection of raw materials to the extraction process, and finally, product development in working with you on your specific application.