Treating pork and other livestock meat with plain old baking soda improves the taste, Wisconsin researchers have found. “For years consumers have noticed that pork quality is inconsistent. A major reason is that the meat from some pigs becomes pale, soft and watery after they are slaughtered, according to Robert Kauffman, an expert on pork quality and a UW-Madison emeritus professor.” Vegetarians in the audience should move on now, as this clearly meat-friendly story may make you a little uncomfortable.From the University of Wisconsin at Madison:
Research leads to higher quality pork
A compound long used for baking and treating indigestion has a new use.
UW-Madison researchers have discovered that sodium bicarbonate improves the quality of meat from pigs and other livestock. Taste tests show that people like the tender, juicy meat treated with sodium bicarbonate. Now Hormel Foods is using the technique to improve pork cuts for consumers.
For years consumers have noticed that pork quality is inconsistent. A major reason is that the meat from some pigs becomes pale, soft and watery after they are slaughtered, according to Robert Kauffman, an expert on pork quality and a UW-Madison emeritus professor.
Depending on the swine breed, between 5 and 15 percent of swine produce such meat, Kauffman says. These pigs are just as healthy as other animals, but their meat is less desirable.
“This is a condition we call PSE,” Kauffman says. “It’s been recognized for more than 50 years. Researchers here in the Department of Animal Sciences helped document the cause and its biological characteristics.
“Because of natural changes in muscle chemistry, meat from all animals typically becomes more acidic after they are killed,” he says. However, meat from PSE pigs becomes acidic too rapidly. When that happens, the meat loses water and becomes pale and soft.
The meat industry had no way to really control those changes, according to Kauffman. He says that quickly chilling carcasses slowed the change but didn’t stop it.
Working in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UW-Madison researchers Kauffman, Marion Greaser and Ronald Russell along with Ed Pospiech – a visiting scientist from Poland – developed and patented a technique that controls the acidity of meat. The method calls for injecting a sodium bicarbonate solution into the meat where it diffuses throughout the tissue.
Sodium bicarbonate — baking soda to non-scientists – can be found in most kitchens. Just as it once cured grandpa’s acid indigestion, it lessens the acid level in pork loins, hams and other cuts.
After Pospiech mentioned that sodium bicarbonate was used in curing hams in Poland, Greaser suggested that the researchers use this compound to prevent PSE by treating meat after slaughter.
“We injected the sodium bicarbonate into meat cuts from one side of a PSE animal while leaving the same cuts on the other side untreated,” Kauffman says. “We found that we could slow the rate and reduce the extent of acid development in the muscle, which meant it held more water and was similar in color to meat from non-PSE pigs.”
Taste tests showed that consumers also noticed the difference. They preferred the more tender and juicy meat that was treated with sodium bicarbonate. Kauffman says the method doesn’t change the meat’s flavor, only its color, texture, tenderness and water-holding capacity. The treatment raises sodium levels in the meat only slightly, Russell points out – much less than other processed-meat treatments.
The researchers initially believed that the method had to be used during the first few hours after slaughter before the changes in muscle chemistry. But they tried the treatment on meat from an animal slaughtered a day earlier.
“We thought that the acidity changes in the muscles were irreversible,” Kauffman says. “But we were surprised to see that the method worked even after the PSE condition occurred.” The treatment appears to return the muscle proteins to their earlier natural condition, he says. The muscle structure actually opens up and retains more fluid. The change makes the meat less pale.
Kauffman says the method also improves beef and poultry. For example, some turkeys produce PSE-like meat.
The researchers patented the process with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and published their findings in the Journal of Animal Science and in Meat Science.
Pork chops injected with sodium bicarbonate solution during meat processing may now be found on grocers’ shelves. Hormel Foods of Austin, Minn., has the exclusive license to the technique. Hormel, the nation’s sixth largest meat packer, currently is using sodium bicarbonate on shelf-ready fresh retail cuts of pork.
The research was supported by state funding to the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and by a grant from the National Pork Producers Council.