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Sheep CRC research tackles lamb’s eating quality stateside

Sheep Central April 5, 2017

Sheep meat research Maddison Corlett.

LAMB ageing, storage and farm nutrition research that could give Australia an eating quality edge in the American market is being undertaken by the Sheep CRC.

Following feedback from American consumers that Australian lamb has a ‘gamey’ flavour, Murdoch University post-graduate researcher Maddison Corlett is examining whether this is true and the possible causes of this perception.

She and other sheep meat researchers are tackling the problem of what impact long-haul shipping routes have on eating quality, with a new series of consumer trials planned for the United States.

Ms Corlett said the gamey flavour attributed to Australian lamb could be due to either nutrition or the ageing of the meat in transit on long-haul shipping routes from Australia to the US.

“We are in the process of researching whether different feeding regimes, different cuts or different ageing periods are affecting the way US consumers perceive the eating quality of Australian lamb.”

Ms Corlett will examine whether consumers can discern differences between six different cuts of both grass-fed and grain-fed lamb that has been aged in cold-storage for five, 21 or 45 days.

“Research has previously shown that Australian consumers cannot distinguish any difference in terms of eating quality between grass and grain-fed lamb, so it will be interesting to see whether US consumers can discern any differences.

“Previous research has also shown that ageing does affect tenderness, but in Australia most lamb is consumed within 10 days post slaughter,” Ms Corlett said.

“This research is important in addressing the question of what impact transit times have on consumer perceptions of eating quality in a key export market, which may have implications for the lamb supply chain in the future.”

The grass and grain-fed lambs – a group of male lambs from terminal breeds – were prepared with the assistance of the South Australian Research and Development Institute and processed at JBS Bordertown.

The meat samples have since been aged at 2 degrees Celsius, and then frozen to maintain their condition until the consumer trials are undertaken in the US in June.

Ms Corlett’s research is sponsored by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), through its post-graduate training program, which serves as a research pipeline for future industry leaders.

Although from a city background, Ms Corlett studied Animal Science at Murdoch University which sparked a fascination with research. She has combined this with a love of lamb in undertaking her PhD into the impacts of meat colour and eating quality on consumer perceptions.

“Eating quality research is exciting because it affects everybody and people can really relate to it. Everyone loves discussing how good a piece of lamb can taste and it is great that we can broaden our research to better understand US consumers as well,” she said.

Graduate tracking surveys completed between 2009 and 2013 demonstrated that 70 per cent of Sheep CRC-sponsored postgraduates found employment directly within the sheep and cattle industries, and that 90pc had been retained more broadly within agriculture.

More information is available from www.sheepcrc.com.au

Source: Sheep CRC.


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  1. Andrew Read, April 9, 2017

    Most likely the “sweetness” in farm killed meat Peter Small refers to is from the high glycogen levels of that meat, wild-killed game meat must have similar characteristics. Many people have commented to me on a like characteristic of my own farm-killed meat. It seems glycogen is also what celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Mathew Evans are utilizing when they “caramelize” a cut of meat, it must also be what provides the flavour in BBQ-charred meat.
    The animals destined for a modern industrial abattoir killed meat have been carted half way across the country, plus time spent getting to selling yards; so they have barely enough glycogen left to maintain meat colour and pH.
    I agree with Peter that there is a danger consumers will be turned off lamb because of its lack of flavour, a familiar story for pork, chicken, tomatoes and strawberries. Breeders and researchers ignore a characteristic if it is hard to measure and come unstuck because the consumer eventually comes to the conclusion that they are missing something.
    Meat research concentrates almost wholly on tenderness and juiciness (IMF fat). Nowadays you never come across mention of the glycogen contribution to actual flavour, although there were some papers a few decades ago. It’s as though a wine maker thought only of colour and acidity, never considering nose or palate.

  2. Peter Small, April 6, 2017

    May I suggest that the amount of Merino in the lamb is also considered. Those who have farm-killed Merino know of its particular sweetness. Until the inventing of “composite breeds”, the Merino cross was always used in the breeding of prime lambs. Could it be that composites with their focus on growth rate and ignoring taste are destroying the unique sweetness of Australian lamb from its Merino heritage? This needs to be researched before it is too late and consumers turn off lamb because of its price and lack of flavour.

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