In a bid to deliver tastier lamb chops and roasts to consumers, a new Aussie meat-quality trial is taking lamb to the ultimate test – on the plate. The objective? To see whether what lambs eat translates into how good they taste.
The taste tests, run by researchers at Charles Sturt University’s Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation in a collaboration with NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), saw 64 volunteers try various cuts of white dorper lamb-loin at New South Wales’ Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute.
“Tasters tried nine random samples of lamb, which had been grown on five different fresh pastures, as we explore how diet affects dorper lamb meat quality,” says DPI researcher Stephanie Fowler from Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station. “Our untrained panellists ranked each piece of lamb on a scale [that] rated tenderness, juiciness, flavour and how much they liked it overall.”
The Graham Centre trial is exploring the consumer-rated ‘eating quality’ of lamb, in a bid to help sheep producers improve the taste and production values of their meat by “fine-tuning lambs’ diets”. The trial will give producers information they can use to change lambs’ diets in ways that improves the eating quality of the meat and consequent consumer satisfaction, better targeting consumers’ tastebuds and adding value.
According to CSU whole-farm management lecturer Shawn McGrath, who conducted the livestock management aspects of the trial, 62 white dorper lambs were variously assigned to graze on bladder clover, hybrid kale, chicory and arrowleaf clover, lucerne and phalaris, or lucerne pastures at CSU’s Wagga Wagga campus.
“All the lamb was tested in our Cowra laboratory to measure the impact of the different diets on carcase yields, tenderness, colour, pH and moisture levels,” Fowler explains. “Now we have sensory data from the tasting panel, and it will be analysed and correlated with the laboratory results to work out how the various feed options affect eating experiences and key production targets.”
“We know that a diet of saltbush can affect the flavour of lamb and it will be interesting to see if our tasters could point to differences in flavour and tenderness.”
If consumers can taste the difference between, say, clover-fed and kale-fed lamb, we may soon see labels - and prices - reflecting the type of pasture lambs grazed on.
The Graham Centre brings together scientists from DPI and CSU to deliver data farmers can use to address production and marketing issues.