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New study sniffs out boar taint in pig carcasses

German research takes us a step closer to the automatic detection of boar taint in pig meat.

Automated detection of skatole in pig carcasses would give a good indication of boar taint, according to a new study from Germany published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

It is known that boar taint, an unpleasant odor that sometimes develops in meat from entire male pigs, is produced by the presence of two naturally occurring compounds, skatole and androstenone. They interact, especially during cooking of the meat, and may adversely affect the eating experience and deter consumers from future purchases of pork.

The compounds are virtually absent from female pigs and from males that have been castrated, and the levels of skatole and androstenone vary naturally between individual entire boars. If the carcasses with boar taint could be separated from those without taint in the slaughterhouse, they could be processed differently to remove the risk of the boar taint developing.

Until now, there has been no reliable and practical test to differentiate between carcasses with a high or low risk of boar taint. However, a new study by lead author Daniel Mörlein of Georg-Augustus University in Göttingen and others brings that possibility a step closer to reality.

The first part of their study involved analysis of fat samples taken from more than 1,000 entire boars for skatole and androstenone using gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Then, links were investigated between those results and sensory evaluation of the samples by a trained test panel.

Researchers found that the chemical and sensory traits were more closely correlated with the concentration of skatole than with that of androstenone. Both compounds and their interaction were found to contribute to the perception of an unpleasant odor, even allowing for the differences between individual assessors, which had been observed previously.

From these results, Mörlein and co-authors concluded that future automated detection based only on skatole concentration could be effective to identify pig carcasses at risk of developing boar taint. The additional step of detecting androstenone would not greatly improve detection of problem carcasses.

Future work is required to find out the critical thresholds of the hormones for consumer acceptance.

“Interaction of skatole and androstenone in the olfactory perception of boar taint” by D. Mörlein and others was published online in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry on May 15, 2016. To view the abstract, click here.

New study sniffs out boar taint in pig carcasses
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