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Flavor gains over flavor loss; the potential uses for a new flavor enhancer - beef meaty peptide - are immense says an ARS researcher.

Flavor Gains Over Flavor Loss

The potential uses for a new flavor enhancer--beef meaty peptide--are immense says an ARS researcher. BMP is envisioned making everything from soups to hot dogs and frozen dinners more tasty.

If that sizzling T-bone steak you're grilling doesn't quite live up to its mouthwatering promise once it's on your plate, you might want to enhance its flavor by sprinkling it with a variety of artificial or synthetic flavorings.

But Agricultural Research Service scientists have a natural flavor enhancer that could make your steak taste beefier. The flavor enhancer is also a source of nutritional protein.

Arthur M. Spanier, an animal physiologist at ARS' Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, found this flavor enhancer in beef and calls it BMP for beefy meaty peptide.

Naturally found in beef, BMP consists of eight linked amino acids produced during the aging of meat after slaughter.

"Muscle is mostly protein in nature," Spanier explains. "When the animal is slaughtered, proteins in muscle tissue are naturally broken down by enzymes into smaller proteins called peptides. This is part of meat aging and tenderization."

According to Spanier, individual amino acids have different tastes--some sweet, some sour, and some bitter.

"The flavor of BMP is quite specific," he says. "If one or more amino acid links are removed from the chain, its beefy flavor is lost and it develops a bitter or sour taste."

Some of BMP's links can be lost through continued enzyme activity. Spanier contends this is a cause of the decrease in beefy flavor of leftovers and other precooked meats.

The main flavor enhancer now used in foods is monosodium glutamate (MSG). This compound can be derived from several animals and plants, but comes primarily from microbial fermentations. "All MSG does is stimulate more taste bud endings," Spanier says, "while BMP provides a specific beefy taste."

"However, large-scale production of BMP from beef, perhaps as a potential flavor enhancer, will require that scientists find the protein from which BMP originated."

Once that crucial protein has been identified, it may be possible to breed cattle to produce cuts with a richer beef flavor. Information on the origin of BMP could also help the meat industry find slaughter methods that stimulate its production.

Understanding the structure and formation of BMP could also allow scientists to genetically engineer the protein into easily grown yeast or bacteria for more economical large-scale production, Spanier adds.

The potential uses for BMP are immense, he says. It could be used to make a beefy stock. It could be sprinkled--like salt and pepper--onto a less flavorful cut to make it taste like an expensive one. Or it might even be added to precooked foods such as hot dogs and frozen dinners.

Flavor Loss

Meanwhile, other researchers at the New Orleans lab have devised a way to halt meat-flavor deterioration.

A derivative of chitin, the fibrous portion of shells from crab, shrimp, lobster, and crawfish, is used to bind the iron that causes fats to oxidize. This oxidation is the cause of off-flavors in meat, says chemist Allen J. St. Angelo.

The derivative used in the ARS-patented technique is called N-carboxymethylchitosan (NCMC). NCMC is a natural water-soluble carbohydrate that has no known allergic or toxic side effects. It comes from chitosan, a gum made from chitin in waste crustacean shells.

Chitosan is presently used by the food industry to clear cloudiness in production and as an ingredient in cosmetic creams and toothpaste.

Although NCMC binds iron in meat, researchers think the iron is still available for nutrition, says John R. Vercellotti, also a chemist and co-inventor of the technique with St. Angelo.

"We were looking at a large number of food gums that have properties of inhibiting fat oxidation," St. Angelo says.

"What we had to do was find one that had a chemical claw that would grasp iron effectively in meat, but not have a flavor itself." More than 25 compounds were tested.

Vercellotti says it is essential to prevent fat oxidation because once the process begins, there is no way to stop flavor deterioration and restore lost quality.

The ARS patent has drawn interest from industry for uses when meat is precooked and served later, such as in institutional, airline, or delicatessen foods as well as fast-food outlets.

It could also be used in frozen dinners and dehydrated soups, St. Angelo says. However, the technique must receive Food and Drug Administration approval before it is commercialized.

Potato Starch Gel

While beef flavor is important, so are concerns with beef's cooking yields and fat content. Bradford W. Berry, a food technologist at the ARS Meat Science Research Laboratory in Beltsville, hopes to boost the cooking yield--the amount available to eat after cooking--and lower the fat content with one simple ingredient: potato starch gel.

When added to ground beef, potato starch gel absorbs water. In addition, the swollen starch gel compresses meat tissue. This makes the meat product more tender, says Berry.

The additive also tends to accelerate internal heating in ground beef patties, thus melting fat.

"It forms channels where fat escapes from the patty during cooking before the burger's surface sears or gets crusty and locks in the fat," he explains. "With this additive, the fat is able to escape because it isn't running into any barriers."

Berry developed the additive to satisfy consumer and industry demands for a tender, low-fat burger with a high cooking yield. The additive increases cooking yields by about 6 percent.

If lean ground beef is mixed with the additive, the fat content of the resulting cooked burger is about 4.5 percent less than in a cooked all-beef burger, Berry says.

But while developments to impove flavor, nutrition, and cooking yield may look great in the laboratory, the ultimate test will come in the real world.

Since the final judge of the success of ARS' meat quality research is the consumer, a special group of consumers is an integral part of meat research at the agency's Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) at Clay Center, Nebraska.

Eight people from nearby communities are part of a sensory panel at MARC to test the palatability of meat produced in various beef research projects. The panel meets about three times a week to evaluate attributes such as the tenderness and flavor of different cuts of meat.

"We feel that it's a very important component of our research here," says Mohammad Koohmaraie, who heads the center's Meat Research Unit.

Prospective panelists are carefully screened to determine their abilities to detect differences in meat samples. Once on board, the panelists use a scoring system to rate beef's juiceness, ease of fragmentation, amount of connective tissue, overall tenderness, flavor intensity, and off-flavor. Current panel members have served from 3 to 11 years.

"We don't tell them in advance what they'll sample," says L. Kay Theer, a food technologist who coordinates the panel. "They find out what the scientists are testing after it's all over."

Results of the taste tests are revealed after the research project is completed, she says.

For example, the panel was instrumental in research aimed at speeding up the tenderization process for beef. Koohmaraie, a physiologist at MARC, discovered an enzyme system that breaks down muscle fiber with the help of calcium chloride, cutting tenderization from 2 weeks to just 24 hours. Calcium chloride is an approved food additive.

"Calcium is a natural component of beef, but there is not enough present naturally to produce the level of tenderness that consumers desire," Koohmaraie says. "Injecting cuts of beef with calcium boosts enzyme activity and accelerates the tenderization process."

Each ARS research project is aimed at providing consumers with more ways to take advantage of beef's nutritional value. Beef is a major source of protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, says Jacqueline Dupont, ARS National Program Leader for human nutrition.

"Such a rich nutrient source as beef--a food that many people enjoy--should be included in the diet," says Dupont. "The dietary guidelines for Americans recommend at least two 3-ounce servings of meat, poultry, fish, dried beans, or eggs per day. Lean beef is a good choice."

Beef's vitamin and mineral benefits help decrease the risk of anemia in children, says Dupont. The concentration of nutrients in beef makes it possible for children to obtain essential dietary requirements without having to consume a large amount of food.

"Our lab in Boston has also found that vitamin B12 is very important in the diet of the elderly, and beef is one of the best sources for this vitamin," Dupont says. "We're also studying how meat protein and fat may enhance the body's ability to absorb iron from other foods."

She says advances in genetics, breeding, and cattle management have greatly reduced fat content, making beef as nutritionally attractive as many other foods.

PHOTO : Using a reverse-phase column, research physiologist Arthur Spanier isolates beef meaty peptide (BMP). (K-4427-1)

PHOTO : Physiologist Arthur Spanier (left) and chemist John Bland compare the structure to flavor relationship of peptides. (K-4427-8)

Arthur M. Spainer, Allen J. St. Angelo, and John R. Vercellotti are at the USDA-ARS Southern Regional Research Center, New Orleans, LA 70179. Phone (504) 286-4421. Bradford W. Berry is at the USDA-ARS Meat Science Research Unit, Beltsville, MD 20705. Phone (301) 344-1994. Mohammad Koohmaraie and L. Kay Theer are at the USDA-ARS Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, NE 69933. Phone (402) 762-4100.
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Title Annotation:Agricultural Research Service
Author:Kinzel, Bruce
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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