The use of electrical stimulation (ES) for increasing meat tenderness is not a new idea. Benjamin Franklin remarked in 1749 that, ''Killing turkeys electrically, with the pleasant side effect that it made them uncommonly tender, was the first practical application that had been found for electricity.''
In 1951, Harsham and Deatherage, and Rentschler obtained patents for their processes of tenderising carcasses by ES. However, ES was not utilised by the packing industry until recent advancements were made in its technology and new research substantiated its usefulness.
Most of the research on ES has been reported since 1976. Experiments conducted by researchers in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the US have shown that ES markedly improves meat tenderness. In addition, researchers at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station observed that this process enhanced certain quality characteristics such as lean colour, lean firmness and visibility of marbling.
The packer, retailer, purveyor, restaurateur and consumer benefit when ES is used as an integral part of the process of converting live animals to meat and meat products.
The search for a postmortem tenderising method stems from the need to provide the consumer with a uniform, consistent and desirable product relative to palatability attributes. Tenderness is considered the most important palatability characteristics of meat. Researchers have studied numerous methods to improve meat tenderness, which include alternate suspension, delayed chilling, high temperature conditioning and cooler aging. These procedures influence tenderness by affecting the muscle contractile proteins, connective tissue or both. During postmortem chilling, muscle undergoes a series of biochemical, histological and physical events, collectively termed death stiffening or rigor mortis. Alterations of the events involved in rigor mortis have a profound influence on product desirability.
Some packers and retailers have initiated campaigns to promote electrically stimulated products and to inform the public of the availability of meat improved by this process.
ES has become a reality in the U.S. because of the efforts of certain progressive beef packers, equipment manufactures and retailers. The amount of electrically stimulated beef in the US beef supply has achieved major proportions. ES may revolutionise the way cattle are bred, fed, merchandised and marketed; as such, this process could have a tremendous impact on the cattle of the future.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Texas A&M University Agricultural Extension Service.