Juicing is the trendy approach for today’s consumers to increase their fruit and vegetable intake. It’s also slang for a method of making meat and poultry more delicious by increasing succulence through the addition of moisture.
The more appropriate term for juicing up meat and poultry is “enhancement.” This is when fresh, whole muscle is enhanced with a solution of water and other ingredients, including flavorings and preservatives, as well as ingredients to assist with binding the moisture in the muscle. Enhanced meats also include comminuted, encased products, such as sausages and luncheon meats, and ground, formed products, such as meatballs and chicken nuggets.
“Raw ground products will have small amounts of water added to aid in dispersion of non-meat ingredients (e.g., salt and spices) and to decrease viscosity of the mix to improve pumping and forming, as well as improve yields and juiciness,” says Austin Lowder, applications scientist, DuPont Nutrition & Health, St. Louis. “The water is simply added to the ground meat during a mixing step or during chopping.”
Adding water to whole muscle items is accomplished by one of three methods. The traditional approach is to submerse the meat in brine.
“This is time and space intensive and not seen in modern meat processing,” Lowder says. “Tumbling the product with the solution, often under vacuum, is appropriate for smaller items such as chicken breasts. A third option is injection by pressurizing the solution through needles directly into the muscle. This is useful for larger items, such as roast beef, which do not allow for a thorough or consistent diffusion of solution by soaking or tumbling.”
Enhancing whole muscle prior to cooking not only increases succulence and adds flavor, it provides the chef or home cook with some leeway in terms of overcooking and potentially drying the meat. This is particularly true for pork and poultry, which many consumers tend to overcook for food safety reasons.
“Cooking naturally drives off moisture from the protein and reduces the juiciness of the finished product,” says Dan Putnam, technical manager, Grain Processing Corp., Muscatine, Iowa. “Adding moisture and enhancing the protein’s ability to retain that moisture ultimately makes a more consumer-friendly product, especially with leaner meats.”
Binding moisture in whole muscle also assists with reducing purge, the liquid that accumulates in the bottom of the package during display. Consumers typically find purge to be unappealing, as it looks like the animal’s blood. This has some retailers discarding product before its expiration date, resulting in financial loss.
Further, from an economic perspective, moisture enhancement increases yield. After all, water is a very inexpensive ingredient. With that added water, processors can also add ingredients to assist with retaining color, slowing lipid oxidation and reducing microbial growth. This extends shelf life and improves safety, with longer expiration dates translating to reduced waste and happier customers.
Flavors and seasonings can be added to chops and steaks through a simple tumble marination. The moisture penetrates the muscle, which prevents the meat from burning and drying when grilled.
Regulations and guidelines
Juicing up meat comes with some federal guidelines and limitations. This is in terms of both how much moisture can be added to the product, how addition is declared and the addition of ingredients to assist or complement the added moisture.
“One example is the limit of 3 percent added water to fresh sausage,” says Patrick Hosch, applications research manager, Essentia Protein Solutions, Ankeny, Iowa. “Cooked sausages are limited to 10 percent added water. Bacon is usually injected with a brine then smoked and heat treated. By rule, bacon must lose the added weight of brine and be back to its original weight prior to sale. Products like roast beef or fresh pork loin may claim that a certain percentage of a solution is included at the time of sale.”
Regarding declaration of the enhancement, the US Dept. of Agriculture published a rule in 2011 requiring enhanced product to declare on package labels that percentage of added solution. This rule went into effect in 2014.
“The legal limits of moisture and ingredient addition vary by product,” Putnam says. “Some are regulated by protein content of the cooked product (controlling the protein content dilution by the additional moisture), some by yield of cooked versus uncooked product, and some only by the amount of binder allowed to hold the added moisture, which itself becomes limited by the ability of the meat and binder to hold the added moisture.”
Jim Anderson, regional market segment lead, North America-meat, poultry and seafood, ICL Food Specialties, St. Louis, says, “Phosphates are arguably the most effective functional ingredient for moisture retention in the meat and poultry arena.”
Their usage level is quite low, often less than 0.5 percent of the formula weight. That little amount goes a long way in terms of increasing yield and improving economics.
“Sodium and potassium phosphates modify pH,” says Barbara Heidolph, director technology, Innophos Inc., Cranbury, New Jersey. “They directly interact with the muscle, specifically with the myofibrillar proteins, to dissociate the acto-mysosin complex cross-bridges.”
This unravels the protein structure, opening charged sites for water to bind.
“Phosphates also interact synergistically with salt to create a net negative charge, which by electrostatic repulsion, drives away the already dissociated actin and myosin,” Heidolph says. “This effect creates more charged sites for water to bind. This action improves the succulence and savory characteristics of meat and poultry products.
“Neutral and acidic phosphates also act as cure color enhancers. Acidic salts used at a very low amount have a negative impact on the water-holding capacity of the muscle. A more alkaline phosphate generally raises the pH 0.2 to 0.3 pH units away from the meat’s isoelectric point, around 5.2. Increasing the meat pH away from the isoelectric point consequently increases the muscles water-holding capacity.”
Enhancing pork loins prior to cooking not only increases succulence and adds flavor, it provides the chef or home cook with some leeway in terms of overcooking and potentially drying out the meat.
In addition to phosphates, processors have a plethora of water-binding ingredients to assist with moisture enhancement. Some work synergistically with phosphates, while others work solo. Some provide additional benefits.
For example, Corbion, Lenexa, Kansas, offers antimicrobial label-friendly ingredients that increase water-binding properties. They help processors control Listeria while improving cook yield, reducing purge and improving texture.
“One of our vinegar-based solutions has been shown to increase cook yield by 4.4 percent in natural turkey breast,” says Tom Rourke, senior business development manager for Corbion. “It has also been tested in injected natural ham where it increased yield by 9 percent.”
Essentia Protein Solutions offers functional stocks and broths from beef, chicken, pork and turkey. They are unique because unlike traditional stocks, they produce a moisture and heat activated cold-setting gel.
“These proteins absorb and bind water by creating a gel in meat and poultry systems. This gel decreases purge and enhances texture, thus improving slicing,” Hosch says. “They work very well as phosphate alternatives in clean-label products since they can be labeled as ‘[species] broth’ or ‘stock, natural flavors.’”
Grain Processing offers a range of ingredients to enhance moisture in meat. This includes modified food starch, corn syrup solids and maltodextrins.
“Modified food starch is considered a binder, and as such, its addition may require disclosure contiguous to the product name on meats where binders are not typically included in the formulation,” Putnam says. “Properly selected modified starches hold moisture through processing, in both refrigerated and frozen storage.
“Corn syrup solids and maltodextrins, although not binders by function, add non-meat solids,” he says. “When contained within a meat protein matrix, they help reduce moisture loss that occurs from heat denaturation and coagulation of the proteins during processing.”
Beneo, Morris Plains, New Jersey, offers a pure white rice starch that works especially well in poultry for enhancement. It delivers a clean look with no pinking.
Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Illinois, is introducing a potato-based functional native starch for processed meats, chicken nuggets and heat-and-eat meats. The starch improves yield up to 20 percent, while providing a firmer, juicier texture.
Ground products include water in the protein matrix to aid in dispersion of salt and spices, to decrease viscosity of the mix to improve pumping and forming and to improve yields and juiciness.
Clean label options
“For cost-sensitive applications, delivering the firmness, chew and, importantly, the flavor that consumers love in meats, has long proved a significant challenge for formulators,” says Davy Luyten, marketing manager. “Our new clean-label texturizer is an affordable way to improve processability and increase yields while maintaining the meaty taste, structure and texture consumers want.”
Fiberstar Inc., River Falls, Wisconsin, offers a natural citrus fiber created from pulp using a patented physical process that increases the surface area. This surface area provides high-water holding capacity and natural emulsification properties that are needed in processed meat products.
“It can be used for brine injection of whole muscle products,” says Nesha Zalesny, technical sales manager. “It can be used in conjunction with a phosphate salt, at a reduced level, to lower the sodium content of the meat.
“Using this natural fiber will decrease drip loss and increase cook yield and result in a juicier finished product,” Zalesny says. “For formulators looking for clean-label brine injection solutions, this natural ingredient can be combined with starch to replace phosphate in brine-injected poultry. Native rice starch is typically recommended due to its small granular size and clean-label perception.”
Because this citrus fiber functions as an emulsifier, it can assist with keeping fat-soluble ingredients, such as rosemary extract (a natural antioxidant) dispersed in the solution. In a brine, this means there will not be a ring of rosemary oil at the top of the brine tank.
Tomato-derived fiber products have also been shown to deliver natural succulence to prepared meats. “Our tomato fiber has good water-binding properties and can give meat enhanced texture, mouthfeel, juiciness and bite,” says Christiane Lippert, head of marketing-food, Lycored, Switzerland. “Dry tomato pulp is another natural way to deliver succulence, as well as an appealing pink color.”
DuPont Nutrition & Health offers a range of soy protein isolates and concentrates for ground products and brine injected, whole muscle products.
“Textured concentrates mimic the grain and consistency of ground meat, while improving water-holding capacity,” Lowder says. “Soy protein has been an effective non-meat ingredient in this arena for many years, improving cook/chill and freeze/thaw yields, firming products for sliceability, and improving juiciness and maintaining sensory quality when subjected to abusive cooking processes, like retort cooking, or long hold times under heat lamps.”
Minneapolis-based Cargill offers modified food starches, native starches, carrageenan and other water-binding ingredients. This includes lean meat replacement options, such as textured soy proteins and functional pea proteins.
“These non-meat proteins help with moisture retention over lean meat and mimic the eating texture of a ground meat particle,” says Tom Katen, technical service representative. “School lunch and institutional programs depend on these affordable proteins to deliver cooked meat and vegetable protein solutions.
“Almost all meat and poultry items benefit from added moisture,” he concludes.