NORWAY – Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Research (Nofima), under the three-year Eat4Age network project, are investigating mechanical tenderizing for industry, to prevent malnutrition in aging populations.

The overall aim of the Eat4Age project is to develop tasty, nutritious, and easily digestible food to prevent malnutrition among the elderly.

Malnutrition in the elderly is an underrecognized condition that is increasing in prevalence as the population ages.

According to PROMISS (PRevention Of Malnutrition In Senior Subjects in the EU), between 13.5 % and 29.7 % of older adults living at home in the EU are malnourished or at risk of Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM).

PEM refers to ‘an imbalance between the supply of protein and energy and the body’s demand for them to ensure optimal growth and function’, per explanation by the World Health Organization (WHO).

To prevent malnourishment and PEM, researchers in Norway are turning to meat, which is not only a good source of protein but one that many older people know and like.

Other participants in the project include NRAE, The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Technion, The University of Leeds, Teagasc Food Research Centre, Nortura, and GatFoods.

The problem in the aging populations is that they can struggle to chew and digest meat, the researchers underscored.

In the home, meat can be pounded to make it more tender, but this process is also a challenge for some aging consumers.

Under the Eat4Age project, Nofima scientists are conducting trials on how mechanical tenderization and various brines affect the tenderness and juiciness of the beef.

Mechanical tenderization involves cutting a small incision in the meat, giving the same effect as tenderizing the meat by pounding it.

This technique could help make cuts of beef more accessible to the elderly, but also to other groups that prefer tender and juicy meat, the researchers noted.

At the same time, they are investigating whether meat can become even more tender and juicy by adding brine, including a brine with a protein mixture based on the rest raw materials.

Project lead Paula Varela Tomasco, a senior scientist at Nofima explained: “It’s not surprising that a dry and chewy texture is not favored by older consumers. On the other hand, they aren’t too keen on a sticky texture either. Think brioche dough; its glutinous texture makes it stick to your teeth and palate, and it is very uncomfortable for people who have difficulty swallowing or have dentures.

“We also try to avoid slightly bitter or astringent flavors, as mouth-drying perception is sometimes enhanced in the elderly.”

Nofima’s scientist, Tom Johannessen, argued that there is a lot of water in meat, and the contents of the brine help the meat to better retain its liquid, even during heat treatment. Tough muscles have stronger connective tissue than tender ones.

He noted they have chosen three muscles with different amounts of connective tissue for this trial, which include tenderloin, the eye of round, and the top round.

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