ULTRATENDER: Towards a cost-effective method for improving beef tenderness.
Beef tenderness has long been recognized as the most important quality attribute of beef meat, greatly influencing consumer acceptability. In fact, consumers are willing to pay up to four times higher prices when buying sirloin, the most tender beef meat. Therefore, it is not surprising that one of the major priorities in the meat industry is to improve beef tenderness.
Moreover, currently meat quality grading relies on the “EUROPE grid” grading system and is based on marbling (fat content) instead of tenderness. The reason is that tenderness is a complex meat feature that depends on several factors and is not easily measurable/predictable by meat producers. Since tenderness has proved to be the most important quality affecting factor, the industry has focused its demands on the development of a meat tenderness measurement to classify meat quality grades.
Meat tenderness is based on ease of chewing and the main responsible are two muscle components: muscle fiber and the connective tissue (collagen). After slaughter a natural process called “rigor mortis” shortens muscle protein fibers, causing the meat to become tough. 48 hours after the completion of rigor mortis, biochemical changes take place in beef that result in the meat becoming progressively tenderer (softer), allowing its use by the consumers. This naturally occurring process is called tenderization or aging. The most extended method among beef producers to allow natural tenderization to occur consists on holding the meat just above freezing for a period that ranges 15-90 days. This aging process is the most time and energy consuming stage within the whole meat processing chain and it highly impacts meat processing cost, reducing profit margins for fresh meat products.