by Ned Rozell
April 24, 2006
Six of us, the "sensory panel" for the University of Alaska's Reindeer Research Program, gathered together to sample reindeer meat from animals on the Seward Peninsula. We didn't know we were sampling reindeer backstrap in two forms-one from a reindeer carcass that had been electrically stimulated, one from a carcass that had not.
"The industry has long-range plans to build and operate slaughter facilities under USDA inspection," Finstad said. "There should be one up and running in two or three years."
By that time, reindeer herders should be able to use results from Wiklund's meat-tasting experiments. During her first tests, Wiklund gave us samples of reindeer backstrap from a herd of animals that roams the tundra just outside Nome. Some samples were from carcasses that workers stimulated with electricity; other carcasses didn't undergo the treatment.
Photo courtesy UAF Reindeer Research Program.
"You want to cool down a big carcass as soon as possible," Wiklund said. "But if you blow cold air over carcasses without electrical stimulation, muscles may contract because of the cold, which will make the meat very tough. It doesn't matter if you boil it for five hours-it will still be like a telephone book."
Electrical stimulation also activates enzymes that break down protein structures in the meat, which often makes it more tender. In the first test, we tasters couldn't tell the difference between electrically treated and untreated meat, possibly because backstrap is such a tender cut. But when Wiklund gave a larger group of consumers meat from the shoulder area of the same animals, a majority said the meat that had been electrically stimulated was more tender.
In a second experiment, Wiklund had us sample reindeer from Tom Gray's White Mountain herd that he slaughtered in March, July, and November. We chose the November-slaughtered animals as having the most tender, juicy meat.
"When to slaughter animals is very important to what kind of meat quality you can expect," Wiklund said.
Wiklund will also look at the protein, fat, vitamin, and fatty acid content of Seward Peninsula reindeer meat and will compare it to the results from the taste panel. Her goal is to help reindeer herders make the most of one of the best meat products available.
"I hope there will be some useful info when we're done," she said.
Ned Rozell [email@example.com]is a science writer at the institute.
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