In the November 2012 issue of Progressive Cattleman, research on beef flavor led by Dr. Rhonda K. Miller, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) was discussed.

Fears robert
Freelance Writer
Robert Fears is a freelance writer based in Georgetown, Texas.

Miller reported that many different flavor components are found in beef, but the most common are beefy, brown/roasted and fat-like. Chemical drivers responsible for various taste and aroma components were identified as well.

In this article, a portion of TAES research on beef flavor and consumer perception is discussed. Two types of consumers were tested: heavy beef eaters and light beef eaters.

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Heavy beef eaters eat beef several times a week, and light beef eaters eat beef one to two times a week.

“The beef industry has evolved beyond commodity beef merchandizing,” says Miller. “Value-added cuts have been introduced, and the importance of expanding marketing to increase beef demand has become apparent.


As the beef industry evolves, the importance of sensory attributes in marketing products has also become apparent. Flavor continues to be one of the most important sensory attributes.”

Heavy beef eaters

“Objectives of this project were to create varying levels of positive and negative beef flavor attributes by selecting different beef cuts that varied in quality grade, pH and amount of connective tissue, and then prepare these steaks and roasts utilizing three different methods of cooking to manipulate the extent of browning and degree of doneness,” says Rachel Glasock, former Texas A&M University Master of Science Degree candidate, who worked under Dr. Miller.

Steaks and roasts were tested for specific flavor differences utilizing a trained descriptive panel and then tested for flavor liking and disliking by consumers representing four cities.

“Steaks and roasts were cooked to 136 or 196ºF to induce differences in degree of doneness and to create bloody/serumy, liver-like, beefy and brown/roasted flavors."

"To further induce differences in beef flavor attributes, steaks were cooked using different cooking methods. Steaks were cooked either on a George Foreman Precision Grill-Model GRP99 set at 374ºF or a serrated gas or flat-top grill at 450ºF. Roasts were cooked in a crock-pot manual slow cooker.”

After cooking, samples were cut into half-inch cubes. Two cubes per sample were served in clear, plastic weigh boat containers tested to ensure they did not impart flavors on the samples. Samples were cut and served immediately to ensure they were approximately 140ºF upon time of serving.

Consumer panelists were provided eight pre-identified random samples in a pre-determined random order four minutes apart.

Eighty consumers each were randomly selected in Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Portland so that the South, Midwest, East Coast and West Coast regions were represented. In each city, four consumer taste sessions with approximately 20 consumers per session were conducted.

After completion of each taste session, five consumers were asked to participate in one-on-one interviews to determine attitudes toward beef and beef flavor.

“Slightly more females participated than males,” Glasock continues. “The age ranged from under 20 (but over 18), to over 66; however, nearly 50 percent of the consumers were between ages 21 and 35.

Consumer income spanned a broad range with 21.93 percent earning below $20,000 per year and 20.27 percent earning greater than $100,000 per year. The vast majority of the selected population consumed chicken, beef, pork, fish, lamb, eggs and soy.

Most consumers consumed beef three or more times per week, and 20 consumers said they ate beef every day. Purchasing habits were determined, and the majority of consumers did not purchase grass-fed, dry-aged or organic beef.

“In one-on-one interviews, consumers indicated that beef flavor was extremely important and did not segment tenderness, juiciness and flavor as separate attributes. Consumers, in general, indicated that they liked grilled flavor in their beef. They disliked steaks with a chewy texture which results from a low degree of doneness.

All segments of consumers indicated that they least preferred the sample cooked in the crock-pot that was very bland. They liked beef because it was versatile, healthy and easy to prepare. Portland residents were typically more concerned with how the beef was raised (natural, organic, grass-fed) than consumers from Kansas City.

Kansas City consumers were more knowledgeable of quality grades in comparison to Portland, Houston and Philadelphia consumers.

“Ultimately, this research could be used to improve the overall flavor of beef products that don’t currently present an acceptable taste to consumers,” Glasock concludes. “For example, roasts cooked in crock-pots and high-pH steaks produced unacceptable eating experiences. One way to improve the roasts would be to sear the outside prior to moist-heat cooking."

"It would be ideal to identify consumer segments and then give different specific cooking instructions to each segment that match their flavor preference. Data from this research shows that high heat or extended cooking increases overall appeal to the consumer.”

Light beef eaters

“For the light-beef-eater study, 80 consumers each were selected in Portland, Oregon; Olathe, Kansas; and State College, Pennsylvania,” explains Dr. Rhonda Miller. “The chosen light beef eaters consumed beef one or two times per week.

The consumers were predominately female and ranged in age from 21 to 55 years. They were fairly evenly distributed across household income levels, living primarily in households of two and three people. These people were mostly full-time employed.

“When asked about consumption of different proteins, the consumers mainly consumed beef, chicken, eggs, pork and fish at home and away from home."

"Consumers in this study consumed beef, lamb, fish and soy products once a week, but about half of the consumers ate beef two or three times per week. About half of the consumers ate pork once a week and chicken two times per week.”

Eighty percent of the consumers cooked on a grill outside, and almost 50 percent either pan-fried or stir-fried beef. Almost 40 percent preferred their steaks cooked to medium rare, whereas 29 and 24 percent liked medium and medium well.

“Two-thirds of the consumers purchased traditional beef at the retail store, and 20 percent purchased grass-fed beef,” says Miller. “Consumers in this study indicated that they liked American, barbecue, Mexican/Spanish, Chinese and Italian cuisines."

"However, 50 to 60 percent also indicated they liked Indian, Greek, Japanese, French and Thai cuisines. Based on these demographics, consumers in this study were representative of average beef consumers.”

As in the heavy-beef-eater studies, choice strip loins, strip loins, choice top sirloin butts, choice tenderloins, select bottom rounds and choice bottom rounds were obtained from 10 beef carcasses (2 per carcass) on one selection day at Sam Kane Beef Processors in Corpus Christi, Texas.

These cuts were selected to differ in flavor based on previous research. Steaks and roasts were vacuum-packaged, frozen and stored at -40ºF until evaluated.

The same evaluations completed in the heavy-beef-eater project were also made in the light-beef-eater study which included expert taste panel tests, consumer evaluations, cooked beef volatile evaluations, raw chemical analyses and statistical analyses.

“We identified that moderate to heavy beef eaters can differentiate beef flavor induced by using different beef cuts cooked to different internal temperatures creating varying degrees of doneness,” Miller concluded. “This research also identified key aromatic volatile compounds that could be used to increase consumer overall like or dislike of beef.

Light beef eaters responded similarly to moderate and heavy beef eaters.

“The next step in understanding beef flavor and controlling or maximizing positive beef flavor attributes is to determine what volatile chemical compounds are associated with specific beef flavor attributes. New technologies, like chemical sensors, which can be rapid, inexpensive systems for identifying flavor, can be developed, but first we must know which chemical compounds are responsible for each positive flavor attribute."

"We must also learn how consumers perceive different flavors from beef. These data can be used to understand conditions that result in either high or low levels of the compounds that are positive or negative to improving beef flavor and consumer acceptance.”  end mark

Robert Fears is a freelance writer based in Texas.

Steaks and roasts were obtained from 10 beef carcasses at Sam Kane Beef Processors in Corpus Christi, Texas. Photo courtesy of Robert Fears.