Research conducted by Colorado State University Professor Daryl Tatum shows that there is a link between marbling in meat and the quality of the grade. Funded by The Beef Checkoff and commissioned by the industry’s Joint Product Enhancement Committee, the study looked at camera-based quality grade and their correlation to eating experience.
A trained panel evaluated steaks from carcasses that were camera graded into seven different marbling scores, ranging from traces to moderately abundant, or USDA Standard to Prime. Rather than assign positive or negative ratings, panelists were asked to quantify the presence of specific flavors such as “meaty, brothy” or other descriptors. They also gave ratings on tenderness, juiciness, and the overall sensory experience.
Tenderness and “buttery, beef-fat” flavor accounted for 91% of the variation in overall sensory experience; in turn, 40% of tenderness variation and 71% of variation in that desirable flavor was due to marbling score.
Tatum says that buttery flavor was not much of a factor at the lower end of the marbling range. “But it increased stepwise all the up to Prime,” he said. “It really rose pretty quickly.” Ratings for tenderness and overall eating experience rose at the same rate. In fact, the research found marbling’s contribution to those factors was much higher than shown by work from a few decades ago.
“The relationships are stronger, and we think a lot of that is because the camera is much more consistent in calling marbling,” said Tatum. “If you improve the precision of the measurement, the predication capabilities go up. Marbling is a very, very good predictor of eating quality.”
Press release (pdf)