Functional Meat Products - Development and Challenges

A. K. Verma, B. D. Sharma and R. Banerjee

THE term functional food in use today conveys health benefits that extend far beyond mere survival (Clydesdale, 2004). There are mainly two types of functional foods, modified and fortified (Buisson, 1999). Functional foods are similar in appearance to conventional foods. These are consumed as part of a usual diet and are known to improve health status beyond basic nutritional function expected from the conventional foods (Shahidi, 2004). They also provide biologically active components that impart health benefits. Such foods must possess characteristics like modified composition, limit the presence of certain potentially harmful components and incorporate certain desirable ingredients (Jimenez-Colmenero et al., 2001). 

There are three basic requirements for a food to be regarded as functional: (i) it should be a food derived from naturally occurring ingredients; (ii) it should be consumed as a part of the daily diet; and (iii) once ingested, it must regulate specific processes such as enhancing biological defence mechanisms, preventing and treating specific diseases, controlling physical and mental conditions, delaying the ageing process etc. (Goldberg, 1994).

Meat and meat products are important sources of proteins, vitamins, and minerals, but they also impart animal fat, saturated fatty acids, cholesterol, common salt, etc. to the diet. Functional modification in meat and meat products includes modification of the fatty acid and cholesterol levels in meat, addition of vegetable oils, soy products and natural extracts with antioxidant properties, limiting sodium chloride, incorporation of dietary fibres and reduction of nitrite. These are the certain approaches to make meat and meat products as a functional food (Fernandez-Gene et al., 2005).

Needs for development of functional meat products

Now-a-days consumers are very much conscious about their nutrition and well being. There is a growing concern among meat consumers over nutritional diseases of affluence, and correlation between food habits and health. Consumption of saturated fat, excess salt and calories has been related to the incidence of coronary heart diseases, hypertension and obesity (Law et al., 1991a, b). There is a dire need to develop functional meat products which prevent or retard various nutrition related diseases. There is evidence that high fat intake is associated with increased risk of obesity, cancer, high blood cholesterol and coronary heart diseases (Garcia et al., 2002).

Meat as such is relatively poor in sodium, containing only 50-90 mg of sodium per 100 g (Romans et al., 1994). But meat products contribute a significant amount of salt in the diet and eating habit estimates suggest that approximately 20-30% of common salt intake comes from meat and meat derivatives in western countries (Wirth, 1991). It has been postulated that high salt intake is related with arterial hypertension (Law et al., 1991a, b). Consumption of too much meat and meat products without dietary fibre is also being associated with various health disorders such as colon cancer, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. It has been reported that intake of fibre reduces the risk of such diseases (National Cancer Institute, 1984; Estwood, 1992; Johnson and Southgate, 1994). Fibre intake through the consumption of foods rich in this component is also associated with reduction in plasma and LDL-cholesterol, attenuating glycemic and insulin response, increasing faecal volume and laxation, reducing calorie intake etc. (Schneeman, 1999).

Approaches to develop functional meat products

Various approaches are being followed for the development of functional meat products including production practices, post harvest techniques and reformulation techniques (Kinsella, 1987). Among these this reformulation is most commonly used method to develop functional meat products as it can help to avoid undesirable component and obtain most desirable composition with optimum palatability (Jimenez-Colmenero et al., 2001; Kinsella, 1987). It is possible to develop enormous range of functional meat products with the help of functional ingredients through reformulation technique. Such functional meat products may be obtained by following various approaches:

Fat reduction and alteration in meat products

Consumer acceptability of meat products is determined by various factors. These include nutritional value, price of protein and quantity as well as quality of the final product (Miles et al., 1984). Now-a-days, health conscious consumer is also concerned about fat content of meat and meat products. The lipid content of lean meat is very less but the percentage of fat content reaches much higher in processed meat products. Saturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids are dominant in meat fat. Studies have shown that saturated fat intake was one of the strongest predictor of high serum cholesterol level and major reason for certain disorders such as heart diseases, cancer and obesity (Giese, 1992). High blood cholesterol depresses the immune system and increases the incidence of cancer (Duwe et al., 1984). To minimize these problems, it has been recommended that energy intake from fat and saturated fatty acids should not exceed 30-35% and 10% of total energy intake respectively and that energy intake from monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids should be approximately 16% and 7%, respectively of total energy intake (Kerry et al., 2002). However, production of low fat meat products through simple fat reduction resulted in decreased palatability, juiciness, tenderness and flavour intensity (Giese, 1992). Hence, fat substitutes are necessary to retain the desirable characteristics of meat products when fat content is reduced. It is reported that altering the quality or type of fat, i.e., replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat or non meat ingredients might be more effective in lowering the risk of chronic heart disease and obesity (Akoh, 1998). Different methods of fat reduction in meat products include trimming of external and intermuscular fat, genetic and dietary modification and fat replacements or substitutes (Keeton, 1994). Fat replacements or substitutes are ingredients that contribute a minimum of calories to formulated meats and do not dramatically alter flavour, juiciness, mouthfeel, viscosity or other orgenoleptic and processing properties. Most of the substitutes used for partial replacement of the fat can be categorized as: (i) leaner meats; (ii) added water; (iii) protein based substitutes (blood plasma, egg proteins, milk caseinates, non fat dry milk, oat bran, soy proteins, whey proteins, surimi, vital wheat gluten, wheat proteins); (iv) carbohydrate-based substitutes (fibres, cellulose, starches, maltodextrins, dextrins, hydrocolloids or gum); (v) synthetic compounds. Various researchers have worked to develop low-fat meat products. Marquez et al. (1989) observed the emulsion stability and sensory quality of beef frankfurters produced at different fat levels or peanut oil levels. The pork back fat has been replaced with vegetable oils in low fat frankfurters (Paneras and Bloukas, 1994). Use of vegetable oils such as coconut, sunflower, palm, corn, peanut, tea seed olive, hydrogenated coconut, hydrogenated palm or hydrogenated soybean oil at 10% concentration as fat substitutes in Kung-wan (emulsified meatballs made from pork mince) have been investigated (Hsu and Yu, 2002). Low fat (5.9-10.3% fat) sausages produced with total replacement of fat with sunflower oil have lower moisture content, higher overall palatability but are less firm as compared to control (Yilmaz et al., 2002). The substitution of pork fat with refined sunflower oil and soybean oil has been studied in the low salt, low fat designer pork sausages (Khate 2007). These oils were added at a 6, 7 and 8% levels in the treated product as compared to 15% pork fat in control sausage. It was observed that less than half cholesterol and significantly (P<0.05) lower calorific values in designer pork sausages were found as compared to control product.

Substitution of nitrite in meat products

The curing of meat generally involves the use of a mixture of sodium chloride, sugar, nitrate and/or nitrite and often a reductant such as sodium ascorbate or sodium erythorbate. Nitrites play an important role in preservation, flavour development and possibly for texture. The main contribution of nitrite to the preservation of meat products is its ability to inhibit C. botulinum. It is this characteristic combined with the aesthetic qualities of colour, texture and flavour that contribute to the widespread use of nitrite in meat products (Sebranek, 1979). Recently, use of nitrite as an alternative has been questioned. Reduction of allowable sodium nitrite levels in finished products from 200 to 10 or 20 ppm has been urged. There has been some concern over the use of nitrites and nitrate in foods, especially in processed meat products. In these products nitrite participates in the formation of nitrosamine (Fine, 1982). Nitroso compounds are important experimental carcinogens, and have unusual biological activity. The concern about human foods containing nitroso compound has greatly increased as it has been found that domestic animals fed fish meal preserved with high levels of sodium nitrite were dying of liver failure. N-nitrosodimethylamine which is one of the several possible types of N-nitrosamine that has been found to be the cause of liver failure. Thus, there have been efforts to find out substitutes for nitrite. Two approaches may be taken to accomplish reduction in residual nitrite. First is modification of processing and handling factors that may offer some control and the second is consideration of potential substitutes for nitrite. Processing and handling factors may hold more potential than what has been realized and may be more effective in reducing nitrite than chemical reductants in some cases (Fox and Nicholas, 1974). As little as 5-20 ppm of formulated nitrite provides adequate colour, but probably more than 100 ppm of formulated nitrite is necessary to retain protection against C. botulinum. Ascorbate and erythorbate offer additional advantages of reducing residual nitrite (Fox and Nicholas, 1974) and reducing potential nitrosamine formation (Mirvish and Shubik, 1974). It seems that formulation with somewhat reduced levels of nitrite along with ascorbate or erythorbate accomplishes a reduction in both residual nitrite and potential nitrosamines while retaining or even improving product appearance and safety (Sebranek et al., 1977). It has been found that a reduction in pH drastically lowered residual nitrite. The idea of utilizing a low pH to reduce residual nitrite and thus potential nitrosamine formation has been applied in several instances with the help of chemical acidulants. This procedure not only reduces the nitrosamine formation upon frying but also contributes to some additional protection against C. botulinum in storage because of the lowered pH (Goodfellow, 1979). Another area where effects of pH may become evident is in a variety of smoke applications. Sink and Hsu (1977) reported a lowering of residual nitrite in a liquid smoke dip process for frankfurters when the pH was also lowered. Packaging and holding systems offer another technological opportunity to control and reduce residual nitrite levels. Packaging without vacuum leads to faster depletion of residual nitrite from the oxygen but somewhat decreases in product shelf-life. Another alternative is to use a high barrier film combined with a high vacuum level to retain product characteristics with lower levels of formulated nitrite (Lin and Sebranek, 1979). The major alternative to process or handling modification would be to develop a replacement or substitute for nitrite. Original attempts in this direction centered around the idea of finding a single complete replacement compound. Several hundred compounds have been examined, but none has been a good substitute. Combinations of various additives in an attempt to provide the several functions of nitrite have been attempted. Among nitrite substitutes, ascorbate or erythorbate (Mirvish et al., 1972), alpha tocopherol (Fiddler et al., 1978), sorbate (Shaver, 1979), propylene glycol and lauricidin (Hall and Maurer, 1986), Lactobacillus fermentum strain (Moller et al., 2003), monascus extract (Fink-gremmels et al., 1991), nitrite ligands (Howard et al., 1973), short-chain alkynoic and alkenoic acids and esters (Huhtanen et al., 1985) and protoporphyrin (Shahidi et al., 1985) have been tried.

Reduction and substitution of sodium chloride in meat products

Common salt or table salt or sodium chloride is an important additive in processing of many foods including meat products. Raw meat itself is relatively poor source of sodium, containing only 50-90 mg of sodium per 100 g (Romans et al., 1994). Common salt is used in the preparation of meat products because of its effects on flavour (Gillette, 1985), water as well as fat binding and ultimate gel texture upon cooking (Terrell, 1983), besides improved shelf-life (Sofos and Busta, 1980). But addition of sodium chloride, which contains about 40% sodium, during processing of meat and meat products enhances significantly their sodium content. Most processed meat products contain sodium chloride from 2.8% (cooked sausages) to 4.5% (cured products) in western countries (Komarik et al., 1974) and have been maligned as heavy salt contributor to the diet. These may contribute as much as about 25% of the total sodium intake in western countries. In India also, sodium chloride is used at a level of 2% and 5-6% in emulsion type products and cured cooked products, respectively. It has been established that the consumption of more than 6 g NaCl/day/person is associated with an age-increase in blood pressure and it had been recommended that the total amount of dietary salt be maintained at about 5-6 g/day (Aho et al., 1980; WHO, 1990). As various reports have linked excessive sodium intake with the incidence of hypertension (Dahl, 1972; Fries, 1976; Law et al., 1991a; 1991b; Tuomilehto et al., 2001), there is an urgent need to curtail the salt content in the food including meat and meat products. Meat industry is searching for ways to reduce salt content of some of the processed meat products (Pasin et al., 1989). There are several approaches for reducing the sodium content in processed meat. These are (i) lowering the level of sodium chloride added; (ii) replacing all or part of NaCl with other chloride salts (KCl, CaCl2 and MgCl2); (iii) replacing part of the sodium chloride with non-chloride salts, such as phosphates, or with new processing techniques or process modifications; and (iv) combinations of any of the above approaches (Terrel, 1983; Sofos, 1986, 1989). Olson (1982) reported that a 25% reduction in NaCl could be achieved without detrimentally affecting product characteristics (flavour, texture and shelf life). It has been reported that substitution of sodium chloride in meat products with KCl and MgCl2 led to some bitterness (Terrel and Olson, 1981; Hand et al., 1982a, b; Puolanne et al., 1988). Whiting and Jenkins (1981) reported that replacement of 50% of the NaCl with KCl in frankfurter had provided acceptable flavour without excessive bitterness, while Hand et al. (1982a) observed similar results by replacing 35% of NaCl with KCl. Further, Hand et al. (1982b) investigated the effects of chloride salts of potassium and magnesium by replacing all (100%) or part (35%) of sodium chloride in mechanically deboned turkey frankfurters. They reported that frankfurters prepared using 100% potassium chloride had more processing and consumer shrinkage than controls, which attributed to lower sensory moistness scores. The use of mineral salt mixture is, however, a good way to reduce the sodium content in meat products. Same perceived saltiness can be achieved with salt mixture at lower sodium content (Puolanne et al., 1988; Wettasinghe and Shahidi, 1997). Ruusunen et al. (1999) tried to reduce the salt (NaCl) content of cooked bologna-type sausages without affecting the perceived taste. They suggested that reduction of added salt to 1.35% was possible.

Incorporation of dietary fibres in meat products

Dietary fibres consist of the plant polysaccharides and lignin, which are resistant to hydrolysis by digestive enzymes of human being. These are being consumed for centuries and have been recognized as having health benefits. Recent epidemiological data show that a diet high in fibre generally promotes a healthier life style (Kritchevsky, 2000) and fibre intake can be viewed as a marker of healthy diet. Increased proportions of fibres in foods are known to reduce the risk of colon cancer, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and several other disorders (National Cancer Institute, 1984). Now a day there is an increasing trend of fibre addition in meat products due for technological reasons and benefits to human health (Vendrell-Pascuas et al., 2000). Several dietary fibres have been used in meat products as potential fat substitutes also (Mansour and Khalil, 1997). Dietary fibres from oat, sugar beet, soy, pea etc., have been tried in the formulation of some meat products such as patties and sausages (Trout et al., 1992; Keeton, 1994; Cofrades et al., 2000). Claus and Hunt (1991) studied the low fat, high added water bologna formulated with texture modifying ingredients like Duo fibre, oat fibre, wheat starch and isolated soy protein in dry form into 10% fat and 30% added-water bologna. They reported that test bologna was less firm than the high fat control but more firm than the low fat control. They also found that fibre containing bologna were more grainy and less juicy than the high-fat control. Swelite, a natural ingredient extracted from smooth yellow peas and containing 60% dietary fibre have been used in frozen hamburger (Chevalier and Galvin, 1995). Soy hulls have been incorporated for the preparation of high fibre camel meat patties (Al-Khalifa and Atia 1997). Patties containing soybean hulls were high in fibre and low in fat and calorific content. Grigelmo-Miguel et al. (1999) used two different peach dietary fibre suspensions (17 and 29%) to obtain low fat high dietary fibre frankfurters. They reported that viscosity of the meat batters increased with dietary fibre content and there was no change in the protein and collagen content. They also found that the dietary fibre was effective in retaining added water in the product. Mendoza et al. (2001) reported the use of inulin, a source of soluble dietary fibre as a fat substitute in low fat, dry fermented sausages. They found that with the addition of inulin, a low calorie product (30% of the original), enriched with soluble dietary fibre (10% approximately) could be obtained. Rye bran as a fat substitute has been used in the meatballs and it was observed that meatballs containing rye bran had lower concentrations of total fat and total trans fatty acids than the control samples (Yilmaz 2004). Use of cereal fibres like VITACEL ®, a wheat fibre, as functional ingredients in meat products such as cooked sausages, mince, raw fermented sausages and cooked ham has been observed by Lnder (2004). Fernandez-Gine et al. (2004) reported that the lemon albedo, a major component of lemon peel, can be a source of dietary fibre with potential health benefits that may also improve the functional properties of meat products. It was observed that addition of raw albedo at any concentration and 2.5 or 5.0% cooked albedo increased the moisture contents of sausages and both types of albedo decreased fat content and increased protein and fibre contents. Use of rice bran in Kung-wan, an emulsified pork meatball has been reported by Huang et al. (2005). Aleson-Carbonell et al. (2005) studied the functional and sensory effects of fibre-rich ingredients like citrus (lemon) fibre extract and beta-glucan rich ingredients (from oats) on breakfast sausages. They reported that addition of any of these ingredients (alone or in combination) reduced cooking loss and shrinkage and increased lightness in cooked sausages. They also found that sausages containing oat and wheat rusk or combination of oat, wheat rusk and lemon albedo had the highest score in overall acceptance. Kaack and Pedersen (2005) investigated the use of dry potato pulp and pea flour for preparation of low fat/high fibre pork sausages. They found that percentage of energy due to fat was reduced from 68% in standard sausages to 24% in low fat/ high fibre sausages.

Other novel ingredients for functional meat products

There are various health promoting ingredients, that when incorporated at appropriate levels can make meat products healthier or functional. Certain bioactive components like, polyunsaturated fatty acids, use of lecithin, various pre and probiotics, isoflavones, saponins, phytosterols, phytates, proteinase inhibitors, oligosaccharides and powdered brewers yeast can be added in the meat products to make them healthier (Turubatovic and Milanovic-Stevanovic, 2001). Whey protein can be used to develop functional food or meat products. It has been found that whey protein retarded colon cancer more than proteins from soybean or meat in rat (McIntosh et al., 1998). Whey protein fractions like lactoferrin and beta-lactoglobulin have protective activity against development of tumour precursors in the gut wall, possibly via their S-amino acids (methionine and cysteine influence cellular methylation status, possibly stabilizing DNA). Aloe Vera leaf gel can also be added in meat products to make them functional due to its possible health related action (Erdmann, 2004). Supplementing meat products with omega-3 fatty acids can have beneficial effects on the health (Hilck, 2005).

Challenges associated with functional food or meat products

Functional foods present real challenges to each of the stakeholder community. It is how to effectively develop and market functional foods. To the consumer, the challenge is whether or not to believe the experts and, if so, how much of the functional food need to be consumed for how long a period of time before the proposed benefit is realized. The challenge of the regulators is how to strike a balance of preventing false and misleading information from reaching consumers while encouraging the use of foods to attain a healthy life style; and for scientist, the challenge is to provide the scientific evidence with which to understand the impact of functional foods on health and to evaluate the evidence offered in substantiation of specific claim (Falk, 2004).

The communication of the health benefits of the functional foods to consumers is also a big challenge for food companies (Williams, 2005). There is a problem associated with consumer perception, awareness and acceptance of unfamiliar ingredients and it is also important to identify the target consumer of a new functional food (Hanley and Angus, 2004). Technical challenges associated with functional foods are release of functional compounds throughout shelf life, effects on sensory properties, appropriateness of food chosen for fortification as a delivery system for target population and cost effectiveness (Chaudhari, 2003). It is hoped that these challenges would be successfully met under the pressure of consumer demand and many more functional meat products will be available in the market in the coming years.




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