Clean label
Tyson Foods is targeting the clean-label consumer with its Naturals line of chicken products.

Necessary ingredients

Preservatives are necessary in many meat and poultry products. They are varied and serve different functions. Antioxidants are quite common, as they retard lipid auto-oxidation, which leads to rancidity, as well as slow color changes, purge and microbial growth.

Traditional synthetic antioxidants are very effective at stabilizing fats to oxidation. They are easy to use and low cost; but being chemically derived, they are undesirable in today’s clean-label food environment. In response, formulators are embracing naturally sourced antioxidants that can be discreetly added to product formulations. Common options are classified as tocopherols and high-phenolic plant extracts, such as those from rosemary, green tea and acerola cherry. Concentrated forms conserve the appearance, taste and quality of meat and poultry.

“As we better understand consumer trends, Kemin shapes its product portfolio to meet industry needs,” Schwartz says. “For example, we recently launched a new domestically grown organic rosemary extract to meet increasing demand for organic products. This new organic product is a great addition to our shelf life extension portfolio, which already includes organic buffered vinegar, allowing Kemin to serve the industry’s organic food safety and antioxidant needs.”

Another area of innovation in the meat and poultry sector is natural replacements to the chemical cures used in products such as bacon and sausages. These cures are concentrated sources of nitrates and nitrites, chemicals that may form nitrosamines in the body. Nitrosamines have been shown to increase the risk of developing certain cancers.

The reason why nitrates and nitrites are added is because they give products desirable color and flavor, as well as protection against pathogens. Clean-label options include plant-extracts that are inherent sources of nitrates and nitrites. The goal is to achieve the cured color consumers expect from sodium nitrites while being able to sport an uncured claim.

Advancements in plant breeding, along with extraction and isolation technologies allow for the development of fruit and spice extract blends to control pathogenic and spoilage microbial growth while contributing the desirable cured color and flavor to non-chemically cured meats. In third-party studies at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers demonstrated how such an extract performed similar-to or better-than standard cure (nitrites) against Listeria monocytogenes and just as well against Clostridium botulinum.

Selecting substitutes

Bio-fermentation products also may function as clean-label antimicrobials and flavor enhancers. Many have proven to be more effective than the traditional chemical options, while also avoiding off flavors often associated with chemicals.

“Bio-fermentation processes typically use dextrose or non-fat dry milk as the feed source for the fermentation, which results in products that have excellent antimicrobial capabilities,” says John Wyatt, regional product manager at DuPont Nutrition & Health. “The fermentation produces acids, peptides and other components that are effective antimicrobials when used in combination with an overall food protection and sanitation program. These whole fraction fermentates can successfully replace traditional chemicals used as antimicrobials, such as lactate and diacetate.

“The blending of bio-fermentation products with clean-label acid sources, such as vinegar and/or plant extracts, provides unique and broad-spectrum antimicrobial and other spoilage protection that brings significant value to the finished product,” Wyatt says.

“Plum ingredients have been shown to work as substitutes for phosphates, too,” Leahy explains.

Research conducted at the Univ. of Arkansas-Fayetteville, showed that chicken marinated with plum ingredients, especially fresh plum concentrate, which is made by concentrating the juice from fresh prune plums, had comparable flavor and moisture to sodium tripolyphosphate-marinated chicken.

“Plum ingredients have also been approved for use in moisture binding,” Leahy says. “And they can replace caramel coloring.

“The chemical composition of prune plums ingredients promotes caramelization, which works great if you’re looking to enhance the caramelized grill marks on pre-cooked burger patties or want to sell or serve a roast turkey breast with a deeper golden color,” she says. “Even a small quantity of plum will enhance caramelization and eliminate the need to add caramel color.”

And, while plum ingredients are not a substitute for monosodium glutamate, their balance of acidity and sweetness helps enhance flavor.

“Sweeteners have also received greater scrutiny, with some processors turning to alternatives like unrefined turbinado sugars and honey for flavor balance,” Katen says. “We’re also seeing processors replace modified food starches, which are used for water-holding and moisture retention in products such as cooked sausages and foodservice meat items, with functional native starches or even fibers like chicory root fiber.

“The demand for processed meat items, meat snacks and similar products will continue to grow. As I look ahead, I believe we need to focus on food safety, shorter ingredient statements and developing the formulas each customer category is looking for,” Katen concludes. “Millennials represent a significant market, and they love their meat, but they also want to know its source or story. I believe that’s going to be the next evolution of clean label. As an industry, we’re going to need to share the story of the ingredients used in our meat products to capture those sales.”