Moisture musts

by Donna Berry
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Ingredient
Brining or injecting whole birds prior to slow cooking in a rotisserie, which is often followed by placement under heat lamps, slows the meat from drying out.
 

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.

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