Beef: marbling in three dimensions
With Asian markets being key high-quality meat product consumers, the tender, succulent qualities of marbled beef are highly valued and potentially very lucrative for Australian producers.
Stories of the nurturing of Wagyu cattle in Japan are legend, with cattle fed on beer and regularly massaged to ensure tender, marbled flesh. But what we are still to understand is exactly how the marbling forms.
Dr Zbigniew Kruk explains that his research involves visualising the marbling through the flesh on a three dimensional level. "We think the fat might follow the blood veins, but that has always been just a theory. This research aims to prove whether that is true."
The process Dr Kruk and his team are currently exploring involves finely slicing through sections of beef in order to build up a three dimensional understanding of the components of the flesh: muscles, veins and the fat deposits that create the 'marbling'.
It is a painstaking and complex process. Ultrasound equipment is then used to closely examine the flesh structure. CAT scan is also an option, but it is a very expensive one, hence the exploration of alternative techniques.
"Once we have established how the marbling forms, we can start learning how to predict if an animal will produce marbling.
"When we've built up the whole picture, we can move on to developing better techniques for quality control and consistency in the quality of marbled beef."
Dr Kruk is travelling to Korea next month to examine Hanwoo cattle, a breed that has a disposition toward marbling. The breed is regarded as a national treasure, so Kruk must examine the cattle in Korea as they are not allowed to be exported. This research trip is being funded by the Beef CRC and the Australia-Korea Foundation.
He has also been invited to attend the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) conference, specifically to explore investment opportunities.
"This research is all about developing the right product for the right market. There is a high demand for marbled beef in Korea and Japan, but there is a lot of competition from producers in Japan as well as the US. What we are learning now will help drive us ahead in the market." ■
Story Lisa Reid