By Sarah Flowers, Heather Hamblen and Dr. Raluca Mateescu – Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida.
For years, Bos indicus influenced cattle have received a bad rap for their less-marbled beef product. However, as the push for healthier foods has risen in recent years, this provides opportunity for Bos indicus breeds to market a leaner product that is appealing to health conscious consumers. Beyond the simple fact that the beef from these cattle breeds is typically leaner, research at the University of Florida shows the fatty acid composition of the marbling is more favorable in terms of nutritional value.
The fatty acid composition of meat (muscle and adipose tissue) is important because it contributes to the nutritional value and it affects various aspects of meat quality, including shelf life and flavor. Nutritional value is determined primarily by the ratio between saturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids in meat. Low fat diets have been recommended on the premise they would decrease the risk of developing several cardiovascular diseases and, therefore, improve human health. As meat contains a relatively high amount of fat, some people followed the prevailing recommendation and cut down on their meat consumption. It turned out that this simple message is actually wrong. Detailed research carried out in the last decade shows that the total amount of fat in the diet, whether high or low is not really linked with diseases. What really matters is the type of fat in the diet. What is becoming clearer is that bad fats, meaning trans- and some short-length saturated fats, increase the risk for coronary hear disease as well as other diseases, while good fats, meaning mono- and polyunsaturated and longer-length saturated fats, lower this risk.
Several factors in beef production affect fatty acid composition, including breed and diet. Breed affects the fat content of meat and fat content itself is a factor determining fatty acid composition. If beef producers could identify cattle that have more beneficial fatty acid profiles, they could enhance the nutritional and health value of beef. Such beef could increase profit to producers because consumers likely would be willing to pay a premium for beef that consistently has a high nutritional and health value. In addition, this nutritionally enhanced beef would likely increase overall demand for beef and ensure continued growth of the beef industry.
Over the last few years, researchers have identified several genes that regulate the fatty acid composition of beef. This, along with the natural variation existing in many breeds of cattle, suggests that fatty acid profiles in beef could be improved through genetic selection. The University of Florida Department of Animal Sciences is currently conducting research on Bos indicus influenced cattle to determine the extent to which genetics influence fatty acid composition and to develop genomic tools for identification of genetically superior animals.
Note – In the research project, pure Brahman, Angus and various crosses of these 2 breeds were used. See the full article and research findings in the SA Brahman Journal May 2019.