When it comes to animal fats, the meat industry has a problem, says Paul Hart, application technologist with Solanic, which makes potato protein. "When you process a pig you need to process all of it to extract maximum value. So you want to do something with the bones (fertiliser); something with the intestines (pet food); and something with the muscle meat - first quality for prime cuts and joints, second quality for hams and processed meats. Then you're down to the mechanically recovered meat and eventually rendered lard."
Short of peculiar animal husbandry regimes where cows and pigs are fed lots of sunflower oil to get polyunsaturated animal fats, then the meat industry is essentially stuck with saturated animal fat, suggests Hart. "The Mediterranean diet - lots of olive oil - may be good for us. But when it comes to meat products like salami and sausages where they are trying to extract value from the whole animal, then manufacturers aren't going to incorporate olive oil or vegetable oil just to make them more healthy."
But with obesity levels rocketing, there is nevertheless pressure on manufacturers to reduce fat in meat products, like everything else, says Paul Sheldrake, market manager with Solanic's parent company, Dutch potato starch giant Avebe. "Starches go into meat products for a number of reasons. One is to do with increasing yield, such as moisture retention. But you can use starches to help replace fat - they tend to be maltodextrins rather than actual starches.
"One of our products: Paselli SA2, a maltodextrin, works well as a fat replacer. We supply one company with Paselli SA2 to make a low-fat version of a sausage-type product. It creates a gel-like structure to replace the fat. They want the fatness, mouthfeel, without the fat.
"In general, meat producers want to use the whole animal. They want to use the fat. But what we also see is them wanting ways to extend the meat, wanting methods to hold water and fat to give juiciness and mouthfeel. In burgers, for example, we have done work where our potato fibre, Paselli SP, is used to extend the product so that when it is cooked it holds in moisture and holds in some of the fat that is already there to ensure the product retains its juiciness and consistency.
"In meat applications we are using our starches more as binding agents to hold moisture in and some of the fat. Actual fat replacement is still a relatively small market."
Hart says interest from the meat industry in Solanic potato proteins lies in their use as substitutes for milk proteins in sausages and frankfurters. "Manufacturers have seen huge price rises in milk proteins, so they are starting to look at alternatives to decouple them from market volatility." Potato proteins can help bind water and bind fat in much the same way as dairy proteins or egg protein, says Hart.
Another benefit, says Hart, is that potato protein has no known allergen sensitivity compared with notifiable allergens, such as nuts, eggs, milk, soy, wheat and fish.
The perfect texture
Cargill Texturizing Solutions produces a range of texturising ingredients, including hydrocolloids and soy proteins, which can be used in meat products to improve texture as well as offer meat-free solutions and fat replacement. According to Frederic Ballber, head of meat application, fat is what gives meat products their succulence and stops them drying out during cooking.
"Burgers and sausages are a case in point. And smoked charcuterie and cured meat products like salamis also rely on a certain proportion of fat to give them their 'marbled' appearance and texture."
However, hydrocolloids, and alginates in particular, can assist with fat reduction in processed meat products. Cargill Texturizing has developed Adrogel GR which can be used to produce a restructured vegetable-based fat to replace pork fat in processed meat products such as frankfurter-type sausages, burgers or salamis where visible pieces of white fat are required.
"The main health benefits to be gained from substituting Adrogel GR for pork fat are a significant reduction in calories and the replacement of saturated animal fat with the healthier fatty acids provided by olive oil or sunflower oil," says Ballber.
Adrogel GR is a blend of sodium alginate, milk proteins, calcium sulphate and sodium phosphate. The gel is heat resistant and has a very high melting point and stability in the frying pan. This means burgers stay moist during cooking and the pan remains free of fatty fluids, says Ballber.
Also, with more than 1.5bn Muslims worldwide, Adrogel GR allows food manufacturers to produce pork-free meat products while still benefiting from the functional qualities of substitute pork fat.
Although processed meat products are very traditional and specific to local markets, says Ballber, healthy eating is certainly a growing trend for meat-based ready meals, pâtés and prepared cold cuts.
"As world health issues become increasingly important to governments and institutions, I am sure that we will see the emergence of meat products with multiple health claims within a single product: for example, a chicken product could be enriched with omega-3, have a reduced salt and fat content and also carry a heart health claim." FIHN
Salt replacement in meat products
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the meat products industry is not the angst over fat, however, but how to reduce salt, which has several technical functions as well as a distinctive flavour.
But according to Swiss ingredients company Jungbunzlauer, most salt substitutes don't match the taste characteristics of pure sodium chloride at high sodium reduction levels, and can produce bitter or metallic off-notes. Yeast extracts, in contrast, can give a brothy flavour and smell and form dust. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), meanwhile, is not allowed in some countries.
Jungbunzlauer produces its own salt substitute, sub4salt, a patent-pending mineral salts blend that can reduce sodium content by up to 50% while achieving identical taste profiles in final products, claims the firm. In brine-injected ham, for example, almost 30% sodium reduction can be achieved using sub4salt, without compromising taste, says the company.
Although taste and palatability are the main problems when trying to reduce salt content, the influence of salt on water-binding capacity can be a significant factor with sodium-reduced meat products, says Jungbunzlauer. In tests on ham it found that hams produced with sub4salt, showed higher yield losses than in hams produced with sodum chloride only. However, there was no difference to the taste, it says.