Meat color plays a vital role in attracting consumers. For instance, the bright red color of beef, young lamb, sockeye, and salmon are very appealing to some consumers. On the other hand, pale colors of fish species aren’t that eye-catching.
The post mortem development of meat color is different for every species. Besides, the variation in color can be seen right from the moment the meat is cut till the end of its shelf life (mostly 3 days). Understanding how meat color varies, and how you can prevent discoloration will help you keep your meat in the shade you like, and thereby enjoy your next fry chicken or duck recipe better. So, lets learn a little about meat color…
Factors affecting meat color
Muscle use: Meat cutters and chefs are often asked why different chicken parts have different color. For instance, breast part is white in color, whereas drumsticks and thighs are red. The thing is, meat color is highly affected by muscle use. In birds like partridge and grouse, that don’t fly much, meat is whiter, and in birds like ducks and geese, that fly long distances, meat is darker in color.
Myoglobin and Hemoglobin: These are the 2 proteins associated with meat. When air comes is contact with freshly cut meat, myoglobin reacts with oxygen to reach equilibrium. During this process, meat color goes through 3 shades – purplish red (immediately after the meat is cut), cherry red (several minutes after the meat is cut), and brown (3 days after the meat is cut).
Age of the animal: Pale color of meat indicate immature animal. This is because, a younger animal has lower myoglobin count compared to mature animals. For instance, young cattle are mostly fed milk products, and thus their meat is lighter in color. However, as soon as they are weaned, their meat begins to darken.
The easiest way of maintaining the bright red color of meat is storing it at freezing point (0°C/32°F). However, it is absolutely fine to allow meat to bloom. The bloom reaches its peak 3 to 4 days after cutting. Well, if you want to restrict the blooming process, wrap the meat on a tray with a permeable wrapping film. If it is about storing portioned steaks, vacuum pack it immediately after cutting. This will let the meat bloom naturally when removed from the packing.
Blooming has nothing to do with meat flavor. However, bright red and darker meat color are always more satisfying visually. For this, either store your meat well, or simply buy fresh meat of chicken, duck, lamb, or whatever you prefer.