chemistry and molecular biologyNews

Boosting Meat Quality with Plant-Based Ingredients!

Plant origin ingredients are effective antioxidants enhancing the quality of meat products. Photo: gate74 from Pixabay.
Plant origin ingredients are effective antioxidants enhancing the quality of meat products. Photo: gate74 from Pixabay.

A doctoral thesis studying the impact of plant origin ingredients on the chemical profile and quality of meat products has revealed promising results, indicating that natural antioxidants derived from plants can significantly improve meat quality, extend shelf life, and reduce oxidative processes. Conducted by Kristi Kerner, this research not only highlights the potential of plant-based ingredients to enhance meat products but also underscores the importance of sustainable practices in food science by utilizing agricultural by-products efficiently.

On 8 April, Kristi Kerner defended her PhD thesis on the topic of ‘The effect of plant origin ingredients on the quality characteristics and chemical profile of meat products’ at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) to obtain a PhD degree in both chemistry and food science. Kristi Kerner completed doctoral studies at two universities, from which she graduated PhD degree from both, the Estonian University of Life Sciences and Kaunas University of Technology. At the Estonian University of Life Sciences, this is the first instance of its kind.

Meat is an essential food ingredient rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals, including bioavailable iron. Although it is advised to avoid consuming excessive amounts of meat and there has been a growing disapproval of meat consumption in recent years, the demand for animal-derived food is growing globally (14% by 2030). Consumer preferences have changed with a growing demand for meat products containing plant-based ingredients to enchance meat quality. As a result, the meat industry is experimenting with new processing methods and optimising product composition.

Application of plant extracts in meat products to improve their quality (the figure is composed based on Nikmaram et al.) Photo: Kristi Kerner

Impact of (Bio)Chemical Reactions and Plant-Based Additives on Meat Quality

Various (bio)chemical reactions occur during the processing and preservation of meat and meat products, which can have an impact on their quality. Minced meat products, for example, are highly susceptible to microbiological and oxidative processes. Adverse reactions can be controlled through a variety of physical methods or the use of antioxidant-rich plant-based ingredients.

In recent years, plant origin ingredients have been more frequently added to meat products, enriching them with by-products from the processing of fruits and berries, which are rich in bioactive compounds. Food technology researchers are working to recover high-nutrient compounds from agricultural by-products and produce healthy components, including those for the meat industry. By incorporating plant origin ingredients high in bioactive compounds, it is possible to slow down or inhibit oxidation processes and microbial growth, extending the shelf life of meat products.

To reduce the negative environmental impact of the meat industry and meat quality, it is important to develop products in which animal proteins are partially or completely replaced by plant-based and unconventional ingredients, thereby improving the overall quality, nutritional value and health-related properties of the products. Considering environmental conservation and sustainable principles, it is necessary to develop technology for the valorisation of by-products.

Categorization of meat quality characteristics (the figure is composed based on Eesti Toiduainete tehnoloogia Selts) Photo: Kristi Kerner

Green Extraction Methods and Antioxidant Testing for Meat Quality in Products

As the public’s interest in chemical-free products has grown, so-called ‘green extraction’ methods have emerged to extract phytochemical-rich natural compounds from plant residues. New methods, such as supercritical CO2 extraction for the recovery of bioactive components, appears to be a promising step in the valorisation of agricultural by-products.

The aim of this doctoral thesis was to test various plant-based ingredients and extracts in meat products, find out the most sensorically acceptable dosages to be used in minced meat products and assess their impact on overall meat quality parameters, including the formation of compounds during chemical reactions in meat by using untargeted metabolomics approach as a new method for assessing quality changes in meat products. Plant materials were assumed to help to improve the quality of meat products by inhibiting the oxidation processes during storage.

To achieve this aim, plant materials with high antioxidant activity were chosen and characterized (blackcurrant seeds and hempseed presscake, rowanberries and sweet grass, Hierochloe odorata (L.) P. Beauv.). Those promising natural antioxidants have not previously tested in meat products. These plant materials were added to meat products at different concentrations and their effects on product quality characteristics (colour parameters, pH-value, water activity (aw), chemical composition, cooking loss, lipid oxidation, sensory characteristics and changes in meat metabolites) were evaluated. Several environment-friendly extraction methods were used to obtain the plant material.

Phenolic compounds in berry fruits (the figure is composed based on Paredes-López et al.) Photo: Kristi Kerner

Promising Results and Industrial Potential of Plant-Based Antioxidants for Improving Meat Quality

Current research demonstrated that tested plant-origin ingerdients may be considered as promising antioxidants to be used in meat products at concentrations 0.5–5% improving their quality characteristics and chemical profile. Used plant origin ingredients have prospects to be used at the industrial level as they are readily available, inexpensive and officially recognised as safe (GRAS). Upcycling of agri-food processing by-products into high-value ingredients to be used in meat products is a growing trend in the food science and technology. Further research should focus on valorizing agricultural by-products and improving product quality-related properties.

The thesis is available in the digital archive of the Estonian University of Life Sciences (EMU DSpace).
The supervisors of the thesis were Professor Petras Rimantas Venskutonis from Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) and Professor Ivi Jõudu from Estonian University of Life Sciences (EMU). The studies were financed by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme project ERA Chair for Food (By-) Products Valorisation Technologies of Estonian University of Life Sciences – VALORTECH (grant agreement No. 810630).

This article was originally published on the webpage of the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

Food science makes you fidget with happiness? Then read an article from our page about how Global warming is changing how food tastes!

Read more

Get our monthly newsletterBe up-to-date with all the latest news and upcoming events