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Woody breast in broilers

Finding uses for woody breast meat

Certain portions of breast filets and ground meat products can mitigate the texture issues associated with woody breast syndrome.

Woody breast meat products can still have value as further processed products if they are used in certain ways.

On May 22, Brian Bowker, a research food technologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service spoke about how breast meat displaying the myopathy can be put to use. Bowker appeared as part of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association’s 2019 Poultry Processor Workshop in Nashville, Tennessee.

Woody breast characteristics

Woody breast syndrome is a breast meat myopathy that affects the rigidity, texture and mouth feel of breast meat filets. Woody breast meat carries more connective tissue and fat than normal breast meat, leading to numerous issues with its potential marketability The causes of the syndrome is not totally understood, but it is believed to be associated with faster growing broiler breeds.

Bowker said the incidence of woody breast essentially rules out using a woody breast in the same way as a conventional breast. The meat’s texture is different and unappealing to diners and its ability to both take up and retain moisture limits its culinary value. This leads to losses for the entire broiler industry. Conservative estimates place the loss of potential revenue caused by woody breast at about $200 million annually.

Although woody breast is significantly less valuable than meat without the syndrome, there are potential uses and potential revenue streams for the meat, according to Bowker.

Breast meat portions

While the entire woody breast filet, and even a marinated or mechanically tenderized filet, is not as valuable as a piece of meat without the syndrome, a certain portion can still have value.

Bowker said his testing indicated that incidence of the syndromes of woody breast are not consistent throughout the entire filet. The bone side portion of the filet does not exhibit the same characteristics as other parts of the breast. Research shows that portion is closer to a piece of meat without woody breast in terms of its composition, its water-holding capacity, protein functionality, processing traits and sensory texture attributes. Therefore, strategic portioning of woody breast filets could help utilize meat with the syndrome.

Ground meat

Bowker examined the use of woody breast meat in ground meat products – like ground chicken, sausage and hot dogs – and found that grinding the meat mitigates the serious texture issues associated with the syndrome. Nevertheless, there are limitations. The greater the percentage of woody breast meat used in ground products, the more likely the product is to show undesirable attributes associated with woody breast and discoloration.

He spoke about three specific products: ground chicken, chicken sausage and hot dogs using a percentage of chicken breast meat in their composition. For ground chicken, the research shows that grinding decreases the negative texture effects of woody breast meat. For both sausages and hot dogs, he found similar results. However, he noted that when the composition of the product became higher than 25 percent severe woody breast meat, the quality of the overall product dropped. However, he said it’s highly unlikely any real world products will be made with 100 percent severe woody breast meat.

He concluded that woody breast meat may be successfully used in various further-processed products with minimal impact on the final product quality.