DES MOINES — Results from the National Pork Board’s Taste and Preferences study reveal areas of opportunity for retailers to help educate consumers on pork cuts, enhancements and cooking methods.

"This study was geared toward unveiling insights into consumers' tastes and preferences for pork," said Jarrod Sutton, N.P.B. director of retail marketing. "In the long run, we believe the results from this survey can help us overcome barriers consumers perceive regarding pork, and help retailers move more pork out of the meatcase."

A panel of general consumers and a panel of sensory-trained individuals were surveyed by the N.P.B. in an effort to evaluate four key quality measures that influence eating quality: fresh pork color; intramuscular fat or marbling; ending pH; and cooked pork Warner Bratzler shear force - a measure which simulates the chewing texture of pork.

Each quality measure was applied to enhanced and non-enhanced pork loin chops, and evaluated at four separate end-point cooking temperatures - 145° F, 155° F, 165° F and 175° F.

A total of 2,280 consumers were a part of the testing in Chicago, Philadelphia and Sacramento, according to John Green, N.P.B. director of strategic marketing. The trained-sensory testing took place at Texas A&M University and Iowa State University. All assessments were done under red light, so participants weren't influenced by visual cues such as color.

"With both panels, favorability ratings went up with increased pork loin pH," Mr. Green said. "Pork with higher pH levels holds more water and is, therefore, juicier. It makes sense that consumers would prefer a juicier pork product."

Chewing texture, or shear force, was the other primary pork quality attribute that influenced the panels' perceptions of pork eating quality, Mr. Green added. As the shear force increased, consumer ratings of tenderness, juiciness and overall like decreased.

Lower cooking temperatures were preferred over higher ones, and enhanced products were preferred over non-enhanced.

One of the implications of the research is the need to work with processing plants to develop practical methods for measuring pH consistently and accurately, Mr. Green said. This study could spark additional research to determine pH and measure it quickly.

"This research also outlines the need for additional education for consumers about non-enhanced fresh pork products," Mr. Green said. "Retailers can provide guidance to consumers in regards to cooking methods and cooking temperatures."