Meat & Livestock News

Enhancing Chicken’s Value Through Moisture-Retention Techniques

Human hand-holding cute little chick. Indoors chicken farm, chicken feeding.

In the United States, chicken reigns as the preferred meat, with a variety of ready-to-eat options ranging from deli rotisserie chickens to spicy fast-food sandwiches and wings from local eateries.

Achieving the perfect balance of succulence without excess oiliness is a culinary endeavour that challenges both professional and home cooks.

The latter often struggle with the finesse and patience required for slow, low-temperature cooking methods. Poultry processors can aid by incorporating specific ingredients that help retain the chicken’s moisture.

Courtney Schwartz, Marketing Director at Kemin Food Technologies in Des Moines, Iowa, acknowledges that poultry processors must overcome significant obstacles to ensure their products can endure the harsh cooking conditions found in both food service and home kitchens.

Retaining moisture and enhancing the yield of proteins is crucial for delivering superior products that contribute to brand loyalty.

The Dilemma of Lean Protein

While consumers favour chicken for its low-fat, high-protein profile, especially when skinless, this very attribute can lead to dryness once cooked. Without additives to secure the natural moisture, the water content dissipates during cooking.

The lack of sufficient fat within and between the muscles further contributes to this moisture loss, particularly in leaner cuts.

Garrett McCoy, Senior Manager of Research, Development and Applications at Corbion in Lenexa, Kansas, suggests a variety of ingredients to improve water-holding capacity.

These include different phosphates, starches, fibres, and other substances like sodium or potassium lactate and cultured sugars, which not only enhance moisture retention but also extend shelf life.

Injecting or tumbling the meat with these functional ingredients in a water solution ensures additional moisture is absorbed into the muscle fibres.

Matt Petti, Technical Service Manager at Sensient Flavors and Extracts in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, emphasises the importance of brines and marinade systems in tenderising the meat, controlling moisture, and providing a flavourful and juicy end product.

Labelling and Regulatory Compliance

The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service mandates clear labelling of any added solutions.

Terms like “marinated” are regulated, with specific limits on the percentage of solution that can be added to both boneless and bone-in poultry. If the solution exceeds these limits, the exact percentage must be declared on the packaging.

Joe Purl, a food scientist and culinary chef at Cargill in Minneapolis, notes that without these moisture-enhancing solutions, the cost of chicken products could become prohibitive, and the sensory qualities, such as juiciness and flavour, might be compromised.

Frozen poultry often contains more added water than fresh to prevent freezer burn, sometimes in the form of a water glaze.

Consumers may opt for non-enhanced or non-marinated chicken to avoid paying for added water, not realising that products labelled with “added moisture” contain less actual meat. Proper defrosting and drying are necessary to prevent the meat from stewing instead of crisping during cooking.

Advanced Moisture-Retention Strategies

To retain internal moisture, processors utilise solutions containing water, salt, phosphates, and sometimes antioxidants, herbs, spices, and flavours. Salt and phosphates are particularly effective, with the former releasing ions that interact with meat proteins to swell and dissolve, thus increasing water-binding capacity.

Phosphates, on the other hand, raise the meat’s pH, causing protein fibres to unfold and bind more water.

Amr Shaheed, Technical Service Manager of Food Applications at Innophos in Cranbury, New Jersey, explains that batters and breading can act as barriers to cooking heat, maximising moisture retention. Phosphates may be added to these coatings to maintain internal moisture while achieving a crispy exterior.

Kemin has developed patented functional proteins that offer an alternative to phosphates.

These label-friendly ingredients, derived from chicken, can be incorporated into meat formulations to enhance sensory attributes without raising production costs. They enable the meat’s native proteins to hold more water, resulting in improved moisture retention even during prolonged heating.

In trials comparing the functional protein with untreated and phosphate controls, Kemin found that the protein improved yield and reduced the starting meat block by 10%. When combined with phosphate, the yield improved further over phosphate-treated products alone.

For battered, breaded, and fried foods, a specific version of the functional protein creates a micro barrier that inhibits oil absorption during frying, potentially reducing fat uptake by up to 50% and increasing yield due to less moisture loss.

The Order of Operations

When preparing brines or marinades, the sequence in which ingredients are added is critical. Proper hydration and dissolution of ingredients are key to maximising the functionality of the enhanced chicken product.

For sodium management, potassium-based ingredients can replace sodium salts, with potassium lactate, for instance, used to shift the isoelectric point of meat, allowing for increased water-holding capacity.

In conclusion, the pursuit of succulent, flavourful chicken involves a sophisticated interplay of culinary art and scientific innovation. Poultry processors are at the forefront of this endeavour, enhancing the consumer experience while ensuring product integrity.