Lentils give beef a boost to improve consumer appeal

Longer shelf life | Lentil flour enhances colour and adds fibre but not fat

Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan and Agriculture Canada have identified a nutritious and natural way to keep the red in red meat.

Phyllis Shand, a meat science expert at the U of S, says the addition of micronized lentil flour to red meat improves colour stability and slows oxidization of pigment and lipids in fresh and frozen meat products.

Using the flour as a binding agent enhances lipid stability, improves cooking yield and has little or no impact on flavour in burgers, meatballs and sausages, the research suggests.

Enhanced colour attributes and improved lipid characteristics mean red meat that contains micronized lentil flour becomes rancid less quickly and has a longer shelf life and improved consumer appeal.

Widespread use of the flour as a meat binder could reduce retail losses associated with discoloured meat and result in significant monetary savings for the North American meat industry.

“In addition to seeing a brighter red colour maintained longer in our fresh ground meat, we also see a decrease in lipid oxidization and so we’ll also get less rancidity development over time with the use of micronized lentil … flour,” Shand said.

Micronized flour is made from grains or pulses that have been processed using infrared technology.

InfraReady Products of Saskatoon is supporting the project by providing micronized pulse flour and facilitating research.

“We’re all interested in eating healthier products, and with the inclusion of lentils (in red meat), we have an opportunity to improve an already good product,” said InfraReady president Mark Pickard.

“Other parts of the world are looking for alternative sources of protein and for ways to improve the quality of meat products, and I think lentils are an excellent way to do that.”

Research examining pulse-based meat binders began at the U of S more than 15 years ago.

It initially focused on the use of non-micronized pulse flours, but scientists eventually determined that micronized or infrared-treated flours had a more noticeable effect on maintaining meat redness and delaying pigment and lipid oxidization.

In its current project, Shand’s research team added micronized flour to ground meat at levels varying from five to 12 percent of total volume.

In most cases, researchers used lentil flour levels between five and six percent, a range that is typical for other binders commonly used in the North American meat industry.

The research also showed that micronized chickpea flour had a similar effect. However, chickpeas contain lipids, meaning the addition of chickpea flour would increase lipid or fat content in ground meat products and limit consumer appeal.

“We’re tending to focus more of our work now on lentil flour in terms of its price point and in terms of its potential application for the industry,” Shand said.

“I think we’re seeing the effect of micronized chickpea flour to be similar to that of lentils. But because the chickpea has some lipids in it, if we we’re trying to develop a low-fat meat product, we wouldn’t necessarily want extra lipid content coming from the chickpea.”

Funding for the research project is due to expire at the end of the month, but Shand and others hope to secure further funding to study variations between different lentil cultivars.

Initial work showed no obvious differences between lentil types.

“We do see the same effect with red lentils and green lentils, but we haven’t looked that closely yet at different lentil cultivars (within various lentil classes), and that will be our next step, is to see if there’s a particular cultivar that is superior,” she said.

Maintaining meat redness and extending the shelf life of meat products are key considerations for the North American meat industry.

The Canadian meat industry is not permitted to add dyes or other artificial pigment enhancers to meat to maintain the appearance of freshness.

The redness of beef or other red meats is determined largely by the cut of meat, its quality and the environmental conditions to which it is exposed.

Micronized lentil flour not only has the potential to reduce meat industry and retail losses but also enhance dietary fibre, provide supplementary protein and contribute to increased meat firmness and juiciness, Shand said.

Toasted wheat crumb is now widely used as a binding agent in ground meat products, but lentil flour produces a gluten-free meat product than can be aimed at consumers with celiac disease.

Shand’s research received support from Agriculture Canada, Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, InfraReady Products and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Scientists Michael Nickerson and Janitha Wanasundara are also in-volved in the project.

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