Enhancing the meat-eating experience and improving overall value of meat products has been a longtime goal for processors. There have been some incredible advancements in the ingredients that improve texture, binding and water-holding capacity.

Over the years, salts and phosphates have been used to help maintain a consistent and juicy value-added meat item. But given the public health concern regarding sodium content and consumers’ quest for more “natural” ingredients, the meat science community has needed to be more creative in enhancing value-added meat product palatability and consistency through the use of ingredients more familiar to the end user.

A long-standing alternative to phosphates in binding water to further-processed meat items has been soy protein. The problem is soy is on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) and Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) “Big Eight” allergens list. These eight allergens account for 90 percent of all food allergy reactions. They are:

  • Wheat
  • Crustacean shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Tree nuts
  • Soybeans

These items must come with additional labeling declarations to end users they are ingredients in a food product. These declarations are designed to prevent those with food allergies from consuming them and having a detrimental reaction. Their inclusion in a meat product will also render a lost merchandising opportunity. Therefore, ingredients that are not on that list, or are otherwise considered low-risk food allergens, have been considered. Ironically enough, potatoes fit the bill as an ingredient that is both natural and not a high-risk food allergen.

Research at the University of Idaho has identified potato starch as a possible value-added meat enhancement ingredient. Potato starch, a very low-cost additive to meat products, has been shown to bind water in ground beef patties in a way that not only helps with the value-added proposition, but at 2 percent inclusion, it also greatly enhances the juiciness of the patties. Not to mention that inclusion at 2 percent allows the product to still be labeled as a beef patty. Furthermore, potato starch at a 1 percent inclusion rate in a roast beef item, although not as effective as product made with phosphate, still had a higher yield than product made without potato starch or phosphate.

Although effective in a beef setting where the lean is a darker red and the innate flavor more robust than other traditional meat species, when used in pork and poultry, the color and flavor of the potato starch tends to stand out. Furthermore, because the starch contains no protein, the product doesn’t really lend itself to enhancing the bind of restructured items and therefore must be used judiciously.

The improved juiciness of meat products formulated with starch-based binders is due to the gelatinization of the incorporated starch during the cooking process. Potato starch molecules are relatively large in diameter and will swell when exposed to water. When there’s heat plus water, the starch molecule expands and binds the water that was incorporated turning to a gel that provides added yield and the perceived juiciness in the meat and potato mixture. Science!

Research looking at plant-based ingredients to help enhance value-added meat products continues. But it is important that the main event, meat, not be overshadowed by the added ingredients. Furthermore, it is always important to look at the visual impact and shelf life of any ingredients incorporated into meat products. Regardless of the combination, keep the customers’ best interest in mind. NP