Many fresh meat and poultry products are much leaner today than 30 years ago thanks to changes in the way animals are produced, according to the American Meat Institute (AMI), Washington, DC. From a health perspective, this is desirable. But from a sensory perspective, that missing fat makes meat and poultry less enjoyable.

This is because fat contributes flavor and moisture. Fat also provides some room for error during cooking as thermal processing drives moisture out of the product. To assist, processors often enhance meat and poultry products with solutions that can replace the flavor and moisture loss that may result.

“We enhance meat and poultry products with marinade solutions to make them more palatable and flavorful,” says David Scoville, manager-customer applications center, Ajinomoto N.A., Itasca, Ill. “It does decrease the cost of the item that is enhanced, which many critics like to say. But it also provides, unique flavors and a more enjoyable eating experiences, which today’s consumers don’t have time to do themselves.”

Melissa Machen, food technologist, ICL Food Specialties, St. Louis, Mo., concurs. “Enhancing meat with solutions helps retain the moisture and flavor that is lost with leaner cuts,” she says. “Leaner products can also be overcooked easily. Enhanced meat and poultry can help with temperature abuses at the consumer level.”

Let’s not forget that water is, for the most part, a free ingredient. “Adding moisture to meat and poultry not only ensures and enhances the eating quality of the cooked product, it also helps improve manufacturer economics in most situations,” says Mac Orcutt, principal applications scientist, DuPont Nutrition & Health, Saint Louis, Mo.

What’s inside?

Marinades all contain water. “This moisture is added to retain the tenderness of the products after thermal processing,” says Yan Huang, commercial development-meat, seafood and poultry, Innophos, Cranbury, NJ.

They also traditionally have contained phosphates. “They [phosphates] open up the structure of the myofilament in the muscle,” Huany says. This increases the number of binding sites for water, and thus enhances moisture retention.

“We offer an expansive line of specialty phosphates that have been uniquely created for meat and poultry products,” Machen says. “We have one product that is designed specifically for case-ready marinated meat and poultry and is labeled as ‘sodium phosphates.’

“We also offer a highly soluble unique product of sodium and potassium phosphates for low-sodium applications,” she adds. “The usage level for sodium and/or potassium phosphates in meat and poultry products is limited to 0.5 percent.”

Speaking of sodium, salt is often included in industrial marinades to enhance flavor. However, with increased consumer awareness of sodium intakes, processors are making an effort to keep the sodium content of marinades as low as possible and still obtain the desired effect. To assist, other ingredients including natural flavors or spices are often added to the marinade.

“A simple marinade solution of water, salt and phosphate is super functional, improving texture, juiciness and flavor of the final product,” Machen says.

Depending on the application, marinades may contain ingredients that bind water. “We offer a number of soy proteins and hydrocolloids that can be added to marinade solutions,” Orcutt says. “Ingredients such as soy protein concentrate, carrageenan and various gums will bind water in the muscle and keep it there until it’s time to eat.” This bound water makes the meat and poultry more succulent.

Gelatin also binds water. It is only permitted in select meat and poultry products, including sausage, lunch meat and canned hams. Gelatin is included in the net weight statement on the label and its presence is also qualified in the product name, e.g., Canned Ham, Gelatin Added.

Ajinomoto debuted a new, water-binding ingredient at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting + Food Expo. “This liquid kelp extract ingredient can contribute to the reduction of phosphates in proteins plus give products a more-enhanced flavor due to the umami characteristics of the kelp extract,” Scoville says. “This is very important in lower-sodium formulations.”

Indeed, as consumers become more discerning with the ingredients in their foods, processors are seeking out simple ingredients that perform big functions. The dried -plum industry offers a number of ingredients that can assist with improving the eating quality of meat and poultry, according to James Degen, consultant for Sunsweet Ingredients, Yuba City, Calif. “Plum ingredients are available in three forms: extract, powder and fiber.

“Few natural ingredients used to replace phosphates and bind moisture exist and most of these do little to enhance other protein sensory characteristics including flavor, texture and shelf-life,” Degen says. “Natural plum ingredients offer significant contributions as they effectively bind moisture in animal proteins. They also contribute sensory improvements that achieve true protein flavor, juiciness, texture and eating quality, in addition to nutritional improvements including less fat, less sodium, fewer calories, fewer artificial flavors and fewer added colors.”

Furthermore, plum ingredients result in a cost-neutral to cost-favorable economic benefit. “Using dried plums results in fewer ingredients in formulas, less drip and cook loss and greater utilization of secondary cuts because dried plums provide lesser-quality protein grades with higher-finished protein qualities,” Degen says.

Other functional ingredients provide additional benefits. “Oxidation is an ever-present concern with meat and poultry shelf-life,” Machen says. “We offer a natural licorice extract that when added to meat systems, can delay the effects commonly associated with oxidation.”

Pumping up product

Processors use one of three techniques to apply industrial marinades to whole-muscle products: needle injection, tumbling or soaking, Machen says. “Processed meats typically go through a multiple-stage process that includes one or more of these methods for optimum yield and moisture retention.”

The legal limit of added moisture varies by the product. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Washington, DC, the labeling term “marinated” can only be used with specific amounts of solution. Marinated meats can contain no more than 10-percent solution; boneless poultry, no more than 8-percent solution; and bone-in poultry, no more than 3-percent solution. The presence and amount of the solution must be featured as part of the product name, for example, “Chicken Thighs Flavored with up to 10 percent of a Solution.” Typically, this information is on the principal display panel or the information panel.

With ham products, the label declaration is different. “The protein fat-free [PFF] percentages determine the labeling,” Machen says. This is because added water is permitted in products labeled as ham, as water is a part of the curing process. Labeling terms such as “ham with natural juices” or “ham water added” are used to identify the PFF category. Products with a PFF lower than 17.0 percent must declare the percent of nonmeat ingredients added on the label.

“With comminuted products such as sausage, moisture is added directly into the blender,” Orcutt says. “The amount of moisture allowed in sausage is determined by various parameters.

“One parameter is meat-protein content,” Orcutt says. “For example, added water contained in the final cooked sausage is limited to four times the meat protein content plus 10 percent additional water; however, 1 percent of additional protein from a non-meat source is permitted to be added to the meat protein content for purpose of this added water determination.

“Below 30 percent fat, it can contain the additional 10- percent extra moisture plus an additional 1-percent extra water for every 1-percent fat below 30 percent,” Orcutt says.

Use of moisture-enhancing ingredients is typically limited by the ingredient and application, as well as regulations that limit the total added moisture in many products.

In conclusion, Scoville says, “All muscle proteins can be enhanced, if desired.” Ingredient selection and usage level is often a marketing and economics decision.