Processors Get to the Meat of the Matter with Protein

American custom still puts animal protein at the center of the dinner plate. But some processors worry how they'll keep it there in the future.

By Anibal Concha-Meyer, Contributing Editor

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"Fermented foods like naturally brewed soy sauce contain the right quantities of amino acids in the right proportions -- glutamic acid being among the most predominant -- to act as natural flavor potentiators and umami contributors."

The team notes also that glutamic acid appears to work synergistically with salt to "produce an exponential effect that is greater than the sum of its parts." This means that, while still a sodium-based product, these extra compounds in brewed soy sauces could, in formulation, help to slightly reduce overall sodium content.

Soy sauce also provides a variety of benefits for stabilizing and preserving meat and poultry such as bacon, beef, chicken, jerky and other cured meats, add Dziembowski and Otsuka. Soy sauce products also add some deeper color notes, enhance preservatives, balance sweet and smoke flavors and help blend the flavors of spices added to meats. The ancient use of brewed soy sauce for curing meats and poultry is becoming more popular among U.S. chefs due to these complexities and attributes.

Stay fresh

For companies using meat as part of the chain toward a finished product, contamination and oxidation can be a challenge, especially with ground products with a huge increase in surface area open to exposure. This challenge can be addressed through the use of certain natural ingredient systems such as rosemary extracts.

PL Thomas Inc. (www.plthomas.com), Morristown, N.J., offers Slovenia-based Vitiva Ltd.'s line of natural and healthy rosemary extracts for the use in meat products. As alternatives to synthetics, the rosemary extracts protect the meat fractions by inhibiting rancidity from oxidation of fats.

"Rosemary extract solutions work to prevent or delay any undesirable flavor, color and taste changes caused by oxidation processes that take place in food, while improving shelflife and overall stability," remarks Ohad Cohen, Vitiva's CEO. Vitiva's oxidation management solution systems include its Vivox Aquarox, Inolens and Synerox product lines. All are 100 percent natural, certified kosher and can be labeled as "spice extract" or "natural flavor."

How Now, Ground Cow?

No food ingredient finds itself at the point where formulation and food safety converge as strongly as animal protein, especially the highly processed stuff such as ground beef. The nation did not need the "pink slime" uproar to make it wary of anything other than whole-muscle meat.

What seems a constant stream of recalls and scandals has been the smoking gun in the meat industry's own hand. Just in the past year, Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Co. recalled 38,200 lbs. of beef products, Cargill recalled 29,339 lbs. of ground beef, and Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. voluntarily recalled more than 130,000 lbs. of ground beef after an Ohio family became ill following a meal including the beef in question. And who can forget the Hallmark meat scandal of a few years ago?

While these companies are not alone by a long shot, they're the most visible because they process huge amounts of animal protein products.

According to Mintel Group, most consumers will positively react to organic, ecofriendly, and animal welfare-related labels on their products. Other surveys have shown that, even in tough economic times, consumers are willing to spend extra hard-earned dollars on social and ecological value-added products. This is why sources of humanely raised meat and poultry have seen demand often outpace supply. One example is Niman Ranch Inc. (www.nimanranch.com), Alameda, Calif., a collective of ranchers and farmers throughout the country providing humanely raised, cruelty-free meats and poultry.

Importantly, the trend is leap-frogging, having jumped from the home table and upscale restaurants to larger chains and key suppliers to the foodservice industry. Bon Appetit Management Co., Palo Alto, Calif., a national institutional catering company with hundreds of locations across America, established a "humanely raised ground beef only" rule in effect as of last month. The beef will have to be certified by at least one of the four independent animal welfare organizations, something the company had already instituted for a third of the more than 1 million pounds ground beef it already uses annually. The company had already made the switch to cage-free eggs and sustainable seafood.

This follows moves by the trio of restaurant giants Burger King Corp., McDonald's Corp. and Wendy's Co. in similar directions, toward shunning crate-raised animals and animal products. For food processors involved in the world of animal protein, kindness will be an ingredient of major concern as they compete in the coming years.

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