Determining the Underlying Factors of Fresh Ham Color Variation
Elgin, Jennifer May
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Consumers associate meat color with quality. In some cases, especially in fresh and cured hams, the surface of a ham, whole, boneless or sectioned and formed displays a color gradient, which is unsightly and generally is considered of lower quality and must be discounted or processed different where color is less critical to the ultimate value of the resulting product. This disparity in color uniformity across fresh and cured products is sometimes known as two-toning and is most often found in the semimembranosus (SM) and associated muscles of fresh hams and is exacerbated with curing. The underlying color of fresh meat may be a function of postmortem metabolism or the underlying characteristics of those muscles involved. Therefore, the objective of this study is to determine the changes in underlying muscle type and postmortem metabolism in those muscles responsible for fresh ham color variation. Semimembranosus (SM) muscles of 15 mixed bred pigs were collected at 30 min and 1440 min postmortem, and muscle color was determined and muscles were collected and snap frozen for various energy metabolism analyses. Differences in color (L*, a* and b*) were noted across the face of the muscle by zone and time (P < 0.0001) but no differences were detected in pH and lactate, glucose, glucose-6-phosphate, and glycogen metabolisms. Glycolytic potential was also measured on a lactate basis and showed no differences across zone (P = 0.0746) but increased over time (P < 0.006). Lactate and pH were plotted and showed a linear relationship linear relationship (R2 = 0.928337) at 30 min (P < 0.0001) and at 1440 min (R2 = 0.161412; P < 0.0015). Muscle type characteristics showed no difference between zones and time. Buffering capacity showed a significant difference at pH 6 (P < 0.0359) and with time across all pH measured (P < 0.0001). These data suggest inherent differences, such as location and function, in the semimembranosus muscle may be more critical in developing fresh color than aberrations in postmortem metabolism.
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