Tenderness and Taste Tests

While at the University of Idaho, my research is focused on making beef more tender.  To do this we evaluate enzymes, measure mechanical tenderness, and best of all, perform taste tests! 

A lot of planning goes into performing a taste panel. It isn’t just simply cooking, cutting and serving steaks!  Prior to performing the taste panels, product is labelled and randomly assorted.  If we are looking at different treatments (ex. If the panel is looking at degrees of doneness, one treatment may be cooking steaks to well done, while another treatment is cooking to rare), the product is randomly distributed among the panelists.  We don’t want one panelist to get 5 samples from the same treatment.  Additionally, in the taste panels I performed, we assigned what order that the samples had to be eaten.  This allows us to eliminate any bias or ‘sample fatigue’ of trying the same sample first every time.  Sample fatigue may seem like a silly concept (who wouldn’t want more steak?), but it is necessary to limit the size and number of samples each panelist receives so they don’t become too full or exhaust their taste buds. We also serve unsalted crackers (boring, I know), and water with the samples so panelists can cleanse their palette between samples.

Along with the samples, panelists receive a questionnaire that has them rank each sample on a 1-10 scale based on tenderness, juiciness, flavor, and overall acceptability.  They can also provide comments on what they really liked or disliked about the sample. This type of form gives us actual numbers to analyze for differences as well as provides some actual insight as to what the consumer actually thinks about the product.   

Lab analysis is so important to meat science.  Understanding what is actually happening within the meat itself is necessary to try to improve it.  However, the most important aspect of researching food (in my opinion), is making sure that consumers are satisfied. We can develop the coolest technology to ‘improve’ the product, but if consumers are unhappy or don’t notice an improvement in the final product, it may not be worthwhile to implement.  Because of this, taste panels are so important to develop methods to improve consumer satisfaction to drive the demand for high quality meat; keeping processors, producers and meat scientists in business.

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