Meat the demand for natural convenience
The top three considerations when choosing preservatives for processed meat products, according to Lex Borghans, category manager MU meat and culinary at Corbion Purac.
Food preservatives play a key role in the production and quality of processed and prepared meat products. They provide flavour, visual appeal, freshness, safety and texture. While ingredients such as vinegar are well known and widely accepted for their preservation and flavour enhancing capabilities, others like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and nitrates have increasingly come under intense scrutiny. As a result, there has been a significant effort in the meat industry to reduce the use of these ingredients. However, meat is a complex product in which each ingredient plays a specific role, making the reformulation of meat products a challenging task.
Consumer demand for clean label
Global research shows how the clean label trend has gained pace in many regions across the globe. The demand for additive-free, natural foods is accelerating day by day and shows no signs of abating. In fact, recent studies have demonstrated that more and more consumers are checking food products more thoroughly than ever before as part of the decision making process.
According to a study by the European Commission, more than 68 per cent of European consumers look at the labels on packaging before they buy meat. In particular, the presence of additives is one of the main concerns among consumers, with many associating them with chemicals such as nitrates, phosphates, sulphites and MSG.
When it comes to on-pack messaging, free-from and naturally derived ingredients are a key differentiator for many label conscious consumers. As such, the European Council has set out a detailed labelling system for food additives to enable customers to make informed choices with regard to foods containing preservatives. Manufacturers should therefore increasingly consider what ingredients to use in their formulations and how they label them on the pack, as they seek to stand out from the competition.
Maintaining consumer appeal
Whatever the solution, maintaining consumer appeal remains a priority. While more and more consumers are looking for a simple label with natural ingredients, flavour, taste, texture and visual appeal remain key factors in their decision making process. Many chemical-sounding ingredients play a key role in the production, quality and appeal of processed meat products. They provide stability of flavour, visual appeal, juiciness and texture. Amino acids such as MSG, for example, are often added to enhance the flavour of a wide variety of processed meats. However, when reformulating products to adhere to wider consumer trends, such as the demand for a clean label, meat processors are not able to make any compromise when it comes to overall consumer appeal. As a result, it is important to find natural solutions that can compensate for the lost product characteristics, which are inevitable when removing these ingredients.
Innovative ingredients, such as ferments containing (buffered) organic acids (lactic acid, vinegar, etc.) and other components that can be used in fresh and cooked meat products to maximise overall quality help meat manufacturers meet reformulation challenges head on. In addition to delivering the salty taste inherent to processed meat products, they enhance tenderness and juiciness, overcoming some of the issues associated with the removal of artificial additives.
Specifically, meat formulated with lactates exhibits superior sliceability characteristics by increasing breaking strength, cutting shear force, hardness and springiness. Furthermore, the inclusion of lactates also slows the degradation of myglobin into metmyoglobin, the presence of which is commonly associated with the red colour of fresh meat, thus improving colour retention.
Similarly, the addition of vinegar to fresh pork and poultry products can equally contribute to maintaining colour uniformity and reducing grey discolouration during shelf life.
Maximising shelf life and safety
Maintaining product quality throughout shelf life is imperative. Meat products provide a perfect environment for microbial growth due to their high moisture content and rather neutral pH. However, the requirements for longer shelf life of meat products, be it fresh or cooked ready-to-eat products, are multiplying.
As food trade becomes progressively more globalised for most countries, and more and more manufacturers attempt to reach different markets, supply chains are inevitably forced to become larger and more complex. As such, vulnerable produce including meat, which typically has a short shelf life, is required to stay fresh for longer and often doesn’t even make it into consumers’ shopping baskets before it perishes.
Shelf life depends on the degradation mechanism of the specific product. Meat, in particular, can be influenced by several different factors including heat, moisture and contamination by microorganisms.
As such, there are several options when it comes to shelf life extension. Artificial food additives, such as nitrates and benzoates, are commonly used to preserve meat due to their antimicrobial effect. However, this common method of preservation is often deemed insufficient in meeting today’s consumer demand for a clean and simple ingredient list.
Natural, non-sodium ingredients are a viable option to replace chemical preservatives in food products to extend shelf life and increase food safety. Lactate solutions, for example, have a bacteriostatic effect on meat, inhibiting the growth of microorganisms and increasing the dormant phase of bacterial growth.
Artificial food additives are increasingly becoming insufficient in meeting today’s consumer demands for clean and functional meat products with great consumer appeal. As such, product developers need to carefully consider the ingredients available to them when reformulating their recipes.
Ingredients, such as those provided by Corbion Purac, are label friendly and multi-functional. Capable of controlling microbial spoilage, increasing shelf life and enhancing the overall quality of meat, these natural ingredients present a viable alternative to manufacturers looking to satisfy consumer demand for clean products.