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Researching the taste of beef

Robert and Janelle Fears Published on 24 October 2012
Cuts of beef

Whether eating in a restaurant or cooking at home, we choose food items that taste good.

The first requirement for a pleasant experience in eating a piece of meat is that it must be tender.

If you encounter several tough steaks, you will probably lose interest in eating beef.

Since tenderness is a primary determining factor in whether people buy beef, a tremendous amount of research has been conducted on the subject.

The producer now knows how to manage his herd to yield tender meat. Technology exists to measure tenderness.

The relationship between marbling and tenderness has been extensively evaluated and marbling is a measurement used in grading beef carcasses.

Nolan Ryan Tender Beef, Certified Angus Beef and certain other marketing organizations merchandize their product as tender products.

Another factor that makes eating beef a pleasurable experience is taste. A steak can be tender but if it doesn’t tantalize our taste buds, we don’t consider it appetizing.

Less is understood about taste than tenderness. Several universities are conducting research on the taste of beef and the database is growing.

Dr. Rhonda K. Miller

Dr. Rhonda K. Miller conducts research on the quality, quantity, safety and usefulness of meat and meat products through her appointment with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. She is currently researching the taste of beef.

Taste components

“We have completed two projects funded by the Beef Checkoff through the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association,” says Miller. “The objective of the first study was to identify the components of taste using an expert trained panel.

The panel is able to taste food products and identify their components much like how wine tasters recognize floral, oak, pepper and other components of wine.”

The study was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Koushik Adhikari and Edgar Chambers IV at Kansas State University.

Adhikari and Chambers teach graduate classes in sensory analysis and consumer behavior. They direct research projects in product evaluation and consumer understanding for national and international companies.

Their expertise encompasses meat, grains, packaging materials, personal care, fabric, paper, pharmaceutical, paint finishes, fragrance and other consumer and industrial products.

An expert panel directed by Adhikari and Chambers developed a lexicon, or a dictionary of terms, for trained sensory panels to use in evaluating beef products.

A partial list of flavors that occur in beef include beefy, brown-roasted, bloody or serumy (prevalent in meat cooked rare), fat-like, metallic, liver, green hay, animal hair, sweet, sour and barnyard.

Miller and others involved with sensory panels compared expected flavors in beef with standards developed by the American Society of Testing Materials.

On her shelf, Miller has a huge reference book published by the sensory group listing flavors and references for each one.

Each reference is rated on an intensity scale from 0 to 15. Zero is non-existent whereas 12 and up are considered intense flavoring.

For instance, the flavor references for metallic are 0.10 percent potassium chloride solution (intensity of 1.5), select strip steak (4.0) and Dole canned pineapple juice (6.0).

The flavor reference for green hay is dry parsley (6.0) and for liver-like, it is Brauschweiger liver sausage (10.0). Panel members learn to recognize certain tastes by training on the appropriate lexicon.

Sensory panels also identify aromas of various foods by sniffing their volatile gases. There is a separate intensity scale for aromas than used for taste.

For example, dry parsley has an aroma intensity of 5.0 and a taste intensity of 6.0. Each taste is defined in the reference book and sample preparation instructions are provided.

The definition for green hay is, “brown/green dusty aromatics associated with dry grasses, hay, dry parsley and tea leaves.”

Preparing beef under a lamp.

“Many different flavor components are found in beef, but most are at low levels,” says Miller.

“The most common are beefy, brown/roasted and fat-like. It is assumed that when some of the flavor component levels become too high, the consumer doesn’t like the meat.

Often people that regularly eat grass-fed beef think that grain-fed beef is tasteless.

Grain-fed beef has flavor, but different components than found in grass-fed beef. Consumers who eat grass-fed beef are not familiar with these tastes.”

Grass-fed beef is lower