Seasoning and flavouring for meats
Spices, herbs, seasonings and flavours are essential in every butchery to ensure butchers can add value to their meat products and offer their clients a world of new flavour and taste experiences. Understanding the options and applications will ensure butchers can make the right choice.
There has been a great deal of research over the years into the chemical components of meat flavour and a very large number of substances have been found to be involved. There is little that can be done to alter the inherent flavour of meat after the animal has been slaughtered. However, understanding the flavour profile of various types meats can help butchers make better seasoning and flavour decisions.
The meat flavour increases with the age of the animal at slaughter. So, meat from an older animal has more flavour than meat from a young animal, and as a result, mutton for example, has more flavour than lamb.
The characteristic flavours of beef, lamb, chicken, etc., also reside more in the fat than in the lean meats. As a result “fat free” or “reduced fat” meat products are likely to be less flavoursome than those with higher fat content.
All processed meat products must contain seasonings and flavours to create the individual fingerprint and yield acceptance to the consumer.
Herbs and spices are also functional ingredients, contributing more than just flavour. Many herbs and spices have long been used for their ability to reduce growth of bacteria in foods. For example, it is known that certain herbs and spices – including clove, cinnamon, thyme, oregano and rosemary – can function as antibacterial agents in food.
Fortunately, butchers have an astounding array of seasoning and flavour options encompassing both ancient tried and tested herbs and spices, and modern solutions based on advanced science and technology.
There is a fine, but interesting distinction between herbs and spices. A herb is the leaf of a plant or shrub that is used for its aromatic properties, and can be used fresh or dried. Herbs are defined as the “aromatic leaf of any plant that can add flavour to food”. In this context, it is implied that all herbs are from the leaves of plants that have soft stems, or are shrubs and not trees. Examples of some common herbs are oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, chives and basil.
All other parts of the plant, including the buds, bark, root, seeds, berries or fruit, are referred to as spices. There are many definitions of a spice but it is best to consider a spice as the “aromatic part of any plant that can be used for adding flavour to food”. Common spices include cloves (buds), cinnamon (bark), ginger (root), cumin (seeds), black peppercorn (berries) and paprika (fruit).
One of the most common questions relating to the use of spices is whether it is better to use fresh or dried spices. The short answer is, “it depends”.
Fresh spices offer slow flavour release in high temperature processing. They are also easy to weigh and handle.
However, there are several disadvantages to using fresh spices. The first is the fact that the bulk of the weight of fresh spices are devoid of aroma and flavour. In addition, users will encounter variable flavour quality and strength, depending on the age, source and storage of the fresh spices. In addition, the presence of tannins could discolour some manufactured products.
Dried herbaceous spices may develop off-flavours and aromas, while the presence of lipase enzymes could affect the taste of products in storage. In addition, a loss of volatile oils or constituents may occur within days or weeks, particularly in ground spices. They are also easily adulterated with exhausted material or dead insects, larvae or eggs.
But dried or fresh are not the only options available. While herbs and spices have been known for centuries, it was not until food technology became a serious field of study in the late 1930’s that the concept of soluble spices first originated.
Besides the natural form, whole or ground spices can be used as spice oil, oleoresin, oleoresin on salt or other carriers (spread spice), or encapsulated. There are obvious cases where one or more of these alternatives can be used and any alternative form can be derived from each spice. The use of alternative forms has advantages of colour and flavour control. Also, these alternatives do not have the microbiological problems associated with the natural spice. However, trends are moving back to wholesome and natural foods and this swung the balance back in favour of natural spices, which have more eye appeal to the customer.
Essential oils are the principal flavouring constituents of spices. With the possible exception of cayenne pepper, paprika spices are dependent on their essential oil content for their characteristic aromatic profile.
The major portion of a fresh spice, whether it be a leaf, a stem, a bud, a fruit, the bark, a seed, a rhizome or the entire plant, consists of water and fibrous tissue, neither of which contributes to the aroma or flavour of the spice.
The original oleoresins were first developed by extracting ground spices with a solvent, removing the solvent under vacuum, and disposing of the insert material. The resulting oleoresin was a heavy, asphalt looking mass of material, rich in aromatics.
Essentially, oleoresins consist of essential oil, organically soluble resins and other related materials present in the original spice, as well as many nonvolatile fatty acids. The amount of fatty oil present is dependent on the raw material and the type of solvent used.
The nonvolatile components that contribute to pungency in black pepper are as important as the volatile essential oils, if one desires a full, rounded flavour of black pepper.
Although most soluble spices are of the dry type, it should be noted that two other forms exist that have limited applications.
Liquid soluble spices flavourings are simply blends of essential oils and oleoresins, diluted to a specific spice strength with the addition of a suitable solvent like propylene glycol glycerol. Polysorbate 80 is added to make them water soluble and, if emulsions are desired, an edible gum is used as a vehicle.
A fixed amount of oleoresin is dispersed on a predetermined amount of salt, dextrose, sugar, corn syrup solids or some other dry, edible innocuous substance and blended until uniformly dispersed throughout the product.
As a final step in the preparation of dry soluble spices, it is usually necessary to add a drying agent to the mix to assure that it is free flowing when used. Such an agent may be tricalcium phosphate, calcium stearate or sil con dioxide.
Microencapsulation is the term and technique applied to the encapsulation of spice essential oils. It is accomplished by making an emulsion of the essential oils – with one of the modified starches, developed for the purpose, or a soluble gum like gum acacia and spray drying the emulsified product under controlled temperature and humidity conditions. Microencapsulation has many functional benefits.
Advantages of microencapsulation
• Standardised colour and flavour quality
• Free from filth, adulteration, impurities and other contaminants
• Easily weighed and handled
• Readily dispersed in food seasonings or food products
• Free of all colour food specks or sediment
• Low moisture content
• Free from enzymes
• Contain natural antioxidants
• Commercially sterile
• Flavour protected from losses in strength over long storage periods
• Immediate flavour impact
Spices and herbs are seldom used in isolation, since there are very few occasions when only one spice or herb will achieve the desired flavour in a product. This is in fact “short-cut” chemistry. Most seasonings and flavours are a delicate blend of various spices and herbs and other ingredients.
The compounding of seasonings is a highly specialised, skilled art. The proper blending of such dissimilar components as spice extracts, essential oils, spices, salt, sugars, monosodium glutamate, ribonucleotides, dairy products and the many other components used in complex seasoning mixtures requires a high level of technical expertise. The formulator must be aware of the compatibility of the ingredients with the end-product with respect to the colour, texture, flavour and other sensory attributes. In addition, the formulator must understand their potential stability in the shelf life of the end product and the microbiological problems that might be encountered when certain ingredients are used, particularly under subsequent processing conditions and storage temperatures.
Fortunately for butchers, many of the leading suppliers of herbs, spices, seasonings and flavours have teams of experts with impressive expertise in this field who create seasoning and flavour solutions that are cost-effective and easy to use, including batch packs and quick mixes that can simply be added to the meat for the perfect flavour, or mixed water to create tasty marinades and more.
Many suppliers will even work with meat processors and butcheries to create unique, signature seasonings and flavours.