When you think of quality pork, tenderness, flavour, and juiciness readily come to mind.
These are what every chef and cook aim to achieve in their pork dishes. And with the growing interest and involvement of consumers in the product they purchase, most consumers are willing to pay more if they know that the meat is of superior quality.
Here are the most important and practical factors chefs look for in determining pork quality:
Let’s start with the meat pH, as you will later read that it affects the rest of the determining factors listed below.
pH is the decimal logarithm of a solution’s reciprocal hydrogen ion activity. In simpler terms, pH measures how acidic or basic a substance is.
Why is the pH of pork meat important in determining quality?
pH has a strong influence on the water holding capacity of meat. Higher pH equates to higher water holding capacity, which means that the pork meat is more tender as it holds more moisture.
The value to consider is Ultimate pH which is measured 24 hours after slaughter. The desired range for pork Ultimate pH is 5.6-5.9
- If the pH is too acidic, the meat will be pale in colour and tend to lose water.
- If pH is too basic, it can have a shorter shelf-life because it is more conducive to bacterial growth.
A combination of several factors can trigger a rapid drop in ultimate meat pH:
- Pre-slaughter Stress – Pork quality can be severely damaged during the last five minutes before the hog is stunned and if hogs are handled roughly before slaughter.
- Post-slaughter Handling – cooling down the carcass or muscles down as fast as possible. Check out this study for more info.
- Pig Genetics – There are two genetic defects in pigs that make them undesirable as they cause low meat pH:
- Halothane genes – Pigs that carry the Halothane gene are more susceptible to stress.
- Rendement Napole (RN) genes – Pigs that carry the RN gene have acidic meat.
For meat to be visually appealing, its colour is essential. A typical consumer will be drawn first towards darker colours which can vary between red, purple and brown. Meat colouring can be brown, which means it has been exposed to oxygen. And when other safety standards in handling and storage are followed, this should not be any problem as the pork meat can still be safe to eat. Typically, pork meat should be a light blushing pink colour.
The colour of pork meat is scored using a device such as Minolta Spectrophotometers or following the Japanese Color Score and other industry subjective standards.
The Minolta lightness (L*) score is done by measuring light reflected from the surface of the meat with a preferred score of Minolta L* 42 to 46. Currently, the industry standard is the Japanese scoring system listed below:
- 1.0 Pale pinkish-grey to white
- 2.0 Grayish pink
- 3.0 Reddish pink
- 4.0 Dark, reddish-pink
- 5.0 Purplish pink
- 6.0 Dark purplish red
The meat pH also influences the colour of pork. Low pH means pale unattractive meat colour. In addition, pork with pale colour and low pH often has an off-flavour, metallic taste.
3. Water Holding Capacity (WHC)
Water holding capacity or Drip loss is the amount of moisture in pork lost when cut. WHC is also the ability of meat to retain its water even if external pressures are applied to it, such as during processing, storage and cooking.
A low WHC often results in the dryer and tougher meat in the cooked state.
Profit wise, low WHC means a loss of saleable product yield.
There is usually a problem in pork quality if the Drip loss is above 5% and cooking loss above 25%.
4. Intramuscular Fat or Marbling
Marbling commonly refers to the intramuscular fat or the streaks of fat within pork. Marbling is measured on a scale of 1 (practically no marbling) to 10 (abundant marbling).
Firmness is measured on a scale from 1 (very soft) to 5 (very firm).
Pork quality is typically determined through pH and colour. These two are used to determine the four broad categories of pork quality.
- RFN – red, firm and non-exudative
- DFD – dark, firm and dry
- RSE – red, soft and exudative
- PSE – pale, soft and exudative
Consumers expect premium quality for value from pork, and it is our responsibility in the food industry to learn how we can provide that to our customers. If your chefs prefer to source local farms or farmers markets for pork, they can use this information to do so smartly.
That’s it for this week.
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Ciao for now,