Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why We Don't Need Cloned Meat - Part II

I have created (I think so anyways) some new terminology to describe most beef sold at retail: Zero-Aged Beef.

What does this have to do with cloned livestock? Well, if the Number 1 complaint among meat eaters is tough or inconsistent tasting meat, then proper aging is one half of the solution. (I attempted to summarize the other half in Why We Don't Need Cloned Meat - Part I below.)

Tough beef can be caused by a number of factors, including breed, the specific genetics of a particular beef cattle (think tenderness genes), diet, temperament, and stress (whether natural or man-made). Also, some cuts of beef are just naturally tougher as they come from more active muscle groups. Most beef cuts are indeed rather naturally tough.

One time-honored way to overcome these variables is to tenderize beef by aging it post slaughter. The "traditional" way (pre-1970s as I understand it) is called Dry-Aging. With Dry-Aging, a carcass or certain parts are air-dried in a humidity-controlled cooler for a period of time, most often 14 to 21 days. Enzymes break down muscle tissues, tenderizing the meat. (More details at a later date.)

The "new" way is often referred to as Wet-Aging. In this case, certain parts of the carcass, e.g. the Round or Tenderloin, are wrapped in vacuum-sealed packages and kept in a cold environment for a period of time. While the process is different, the outcome is the same, the beef tenderizes with time.

Unfortunately, both aging techniques are very expensive. A rancher or retailer must carry inventory and storage costs during the aging period. In the case of Dry-Aging, the seller can also lose up to 20% of the original weight of the beef due to moisture loss and the need to trim off the edges, which become dry and inedible.

Because of this higher cost, almost no retailer or food service operator ages beef these days. The end result is Zero-Aged, very often tougher meat.

The cloning companies are correct, they can use genetic selection to optimize beef cattle for tenderness. But ranchers can already use genetic selection for this purpose. It’s not an easy process, can take years to achieve, and is still subject to the whims of nature or Darwinism, but it can be done. I’ll leave the “hows” to a new post.

Dry-Aging or Wet-Aging beef to tenderize beef will not necessarily lead to higher quality or a more consistent taste - see below. But it's a start.

If you do want all three things (consistent tasting, high quality, tender beef) ask the seller questions what steps are being taken to ensure consistent quality, taste, and tenderness.

If you hear something like “We specialize in X breed and get feedback from our processor about each of our cattle and use this to determine which cows and bulls to keep and pair. We also (dry- or wet-) age our beef (a minimum of 7) days,” then you’ll know you’re on the right track.

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