CSU studying lamb and sheep meat cuts to predict flavor profiles that consumers like | TheFencePost.com

CSU studying lamb and sheep meat cuts to predict flavor profiles that consumers like

Cody Gifford, a Ph.D. candidate at Colorado State University, is using technology originally developed for surgeons to determine molecular differences in lamb and sheep meat cuts as it relates to taste.

He calls the first sheep flavor study completed at CSU a proof of concept study that ultimately proved that the molecular profile and muscle compounds can be used to differentiate differences among sheep muscle samples based on flavor.

This study utilizes Rapid Evaporative Ionization Mass Spectrometry (REIMS), a technology adapted to hook up to a mass spectrometer. Researchers are then using a pen to cauterize the surface of sheep meat samples, which generates smoke and allows the volatile chemical compound in the smoke to transport into the mass spectrometer. This results in a molecular profile of the chemical compounds.

To get this real-time data, Gifford and his team collected samples from 150 sheep, of those, 50 were lamb, 50 were yearlings, and 50 were sheep or mutton. Aside from age differences, the sample included different breed types, genders, and finish types. The samples included fat side and lean side samples from the leg with the remainder ground and made into patties.

Volatile chemical compounds were gathered from each sample. With the remainder of the meat, the research team used a trained sensory panel to rate intensities of different flavor attributes. The two sets of data were then used in models to attempt to predict certain flavor attributes.

"This is the first study to validate whether we can use the (REIMS) instrument to predict flavor profiles of sheep meat products with a variety of live animal factors to give us differences in how we would be able to predict different flavor profiles.

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Though Gifford said this is the first study of this type and there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done, including the gathering of consumer preferences. However, it is possible the study could play a role in the greater flavor discussion. In the future, given a validated instrument for use, it's possible sheep meat products could be graded according to flavor intensity to help guide consumers. Until then, Gifford will begin to gather consumer responses and continue his research.

During his presentation at the Colorado Farm Show, Gifford offered ground patty samples from the study. Attendees sampled the samples without knowledge of what type of sheep meat cuts they were. He said some people said they liked all three and others had preferences. He said it brought about good discussion, especially given the high percentage of producers in the room.

"If we're trying to predict flavor profiles, we need to have a good understanding of what the consumers think of the samples from a flavor perspective," he said. "Moving forward, that's the next step, getting the consumer's ideas on flavor of samples from sheep carcasses from animals currently being produced here in the U.S. and are going out for distribution. That will be valuable information." ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 392-4410.