Dr Alaa El-din Bekhit outlines a research project on meat
tenderness, watched by masters student Via Suwandy. Photo
by Gregor Richardson.
It has been an electrifying experiment.
A research team at the University of Otago has been using
short bursts of high-voltage electricity in a bid to improve
the tenderness of red meat.
The research, in conjunction with Alliance Group and led by
Dr Alaa El-din Bekhit, of the university's food science
department, has been cited as having the potential to open up
new opportunities for lifting returns on lower-value carcass
Tests on a range of beef cuts from Alliance Group's Pukeuri
plant have found the use of pulsed electric field (PEF)
technology could enhance tenderness.
While electrical stimulation has been used on whole carcasses
since the 1970s, its tenderising effects were limited to a
few muscles on the carcass.
As the PEF technology had the potential to improve the
tenderness of individual muscles, it could help meat
processors capture the maximum economic benefit of each cut
of meat from a carcass.
By lifting the value of that carcass it was, in turn,
improving returns for suppliers, Alliance Group's marketing
development services manager Gary Maclennan said.
Dr Bekhit said the study was the first step in determining
how PEF technology could be applied effectively to fresh-meat
Tenderness was arguably the most important quality attribute
of red meat, he said. After the meat was cooked, many of the
appearance attributes become irrelevant, and flavour could be
influenced with other ingredients or added flavours.
The production of consistently tender meat was important as
red meat was competing with other types of meat, such as
poultry, and tender meat cuts also fetched a higher premium
than the less-tender cuts, helping to maximise the financial
gain, he said.
Mr Maclennan said factors such as the time elapsed from the
meat being processed to being sold overseas could have an
impact on the quality of meat that consumers purchased.
''The quality often comes down to natural aspects in the
meat, which influence toughness, moisture and shelf life.
This study indicates we may have greater control over these
''If we can increase the tenderness of our products to be at
their best when they're purchased, our customers will be able
to enjoy the best-tasting meat no matter where they are in
Dr Bekhit, who has been a meat scientist for 15 years, said
the system, which used about 25,000 volts, was ''completely
There was no negative impact on the meat, and no side
effects. The biggest hazard was for the operators but, if
safety precautions were followed, there were no problems.
The same technology had been used for wine and juice to
The meat project had been going for about 18 months and
was at the stage of understanding exactly how the technology
worked. No sensory trials had been done, but that was
something he would ''love to do'', he said.
Dr Bekhit also believed there was an opportunity for
engineering firms to manufacture the technology required,
saying the potential in the wine, food-processing and meat
industries was ''huge''.