Nov. 7, 2006 To help satisfy consumer demand for more natural food products, researchers at Texas A&M University are investigating dried plums as a meat preservative.
"We found that dried plums, when pureed, actually have a very good antioxidant capacity," said Dr. Jimmy Keeton, professor of animal science and leader of the research at Texas A&M.
"We've been experimenting with dried plums and plum juice in different types of products such as pre-cooked pork sausages, roast beef and ham to see which of those products will respond most effectively as antioxidants," he said. "We found that pre-cooked and uncured products like sausages and roast beef actually respond the best."
Antioxidants retard oxidation of fatty acids that make up fat, he said.
"If these are unsaturated fatty acids, they can oxidize more and produce off-flavors and cause shelf life problems," he said.
Synthetic products called BHA (butylated hydroxyl anisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxyl toluene) have long been used as antioxidants. The natural product, extract of rosemary, is also used.
Dried plums can enhance the flavor of some products, frankfurters in particular, Keeton said.
"We've actually had consumers tell us they prefer the flavor of products with the dried plum ingredient," he said.
Because dried plums are better known as prunes, some concerns about the laxative effects have been raised. Keeton said the dried plum puree is added in such small amounts that it should not be a concern to most people.
Researchers added dried plum pate to sausages and similar ground products while dried plum juice was found to be most effective in beef roasts.
Meats with the dried plum additives are at present a specialty.
"Companies will have to look at the market and decide if this ingredient will work for them," Keeton said. "It's not expensive, but it must be listed as an ingredient added to the product."
Researchers also want to test adding the dried plum puree to lean meat products, he said.
"Unsaturated fatty acids are found in lean tissue membranes, and therefore it can be a benefit because it prevents the oxidation of them in the membranes," he said.
The research was funded by the California Dried Plum Board.
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