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The Colors of Meat

January 23, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecently I saw a comment that if chicken meat is pink there’s something wrong with it – it should be white. This is the basis of fear and misinformation because guess what folks – chicken meat/muscle is pink! If you butcher a chicken and cut into the leg muscle, it’s pink. Muscle. When cooked, the meat appears white, but in the raw state I’d be alarmed to see white muscle.

So it got me thinking and the recent post of books to read if you eat was made, but it’s clear that may not be enough. Why do I recommend them? Because it goes into much more than a blog post, a sound bite or a comment. A half truth isn’t the whole truth…indeed a half truth may be a whole lie.

Some may wonder why I so heavily recommend Butchering – Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, Pork by Adam Danforth. Over the next few days I’m going to share a few bits why. You may not raise your own meats (there’s a separate book for beef) and may not care to do so, but in these pages you’ll get a feel for the processor, a very important part of the chain, and one often overlooked. The processor – folks like John’s Custom Meats – takes that animal from moo or oink to steak, burger or pork chop. It’s tough work! Mr. Danforth’s book also explains much about meats that is important for you, the consumer, to understand. For example, the color of meats.

Meat is muscle. Muscles of animals become meat. Several species this is red, while others (like poultry or rabbit) is pink. Here’s what Mr. Danforth says about the color of muscles:

“In fact, there is no blood within the muscle fibers themselves. Muscles do need blood to operate, though, and vessels running among the connective tissue and fat that sits between the fibrous bundles carry blood into the muscles. Muscle fibers need oxygen, and to get it from the bloodstream to the fibers requires a local delivery system of sorts. In comes myoglobin, a protein capable of making the trip between the bloodstream and the muscle fiber while carrying a load of oxygen. While an animal is alive, oxygen exchanges are constantly happening according to the demands of a muscle. The more a muscle works, the more oxygen it needs and the more myoglobin is there to make it happen.”

Do you remember basic biology science? Many don’t. Myoglobin has three states: deoxygenated (not carrying oxygen), oxygenated and oxidized (exposed to external elements, like air).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow think of that package of beef stew cubes or burger or pork roast. It might be in a wrapper and look sort of purple, right? Airtight packaging, right? It is deprived of oxygen. You cut open the package and what happens…boom! oxygen! The red meat ‘blooms’ with a rush of oxygen and looks red. If it sits out for a bit, the muscle may turn brownish-red – similar to some meats in the discount section at meat counters. It doesn’t necessarily indicate spoiled meat – it’s natural process.

A blog, or a web page, cannot cover as much information, or as detailed information, as a book…thus recommending getting the book! The basic processing and food safety is worth the read, and that’s just the first two chapters. Meat is climbing in cost, and it behooves all of us to make the most of it. From a safety and taste part of the equation, learn what you can do (or not do) to make a difference in the meats used in your meals.

Banish the fear factor in 2015! Let’s all vow to learn more about our food and how it gets to the table!


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