Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce heart disease, cholesterol and high blood pressure. Jim Drouillard, a Kansas State University (KSU) professor of animal sciences and industry, has developed a technique to enrich ground beef with these healthy compounds.
The enriched ground beef is named GreatO Premium Ground Beef and is being sold through the Manhattan, KS-based company, NBO3 Technologies LLC. It's available at select retailers in Buffalo, N.Y., with expansion expected later this year leading retailers and restaurants nationwide.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and plant oils. The U.S. currently does not have a recommended daily intake of Omega-3s, though many doctors and nutritionists recommend between 1,200-1,600 mg/day, depending on a person’s age and health. A ¼-lb. hamburger made of the enriched ground beef has 200 mg of Omega-3s and tastes the same as regular ground beef, Drouillard says. This makes the ground beef an alternative for people who want to add or increase their Omega-3 fatty acids intake, but don’t want fish or supplements to do so.
“As a society, Americans’ consumption of fish, especially fish that contributes to these Omega-3 fats, is quite low compared to other proteins,” Drouillard says. “Reasons for this include cost, access to fish and personal preference. Americans do, however, like hamburgers. So if we can give people a hamburger that is rich in Omega-3s, it’s an alternative form of a product that they already eat and does not require a lifestyle change, which is difficult to make.”
The health benefits of omega-3s are not limited to humans. Studies show that dairy and beef cattle with an enriched diet of flaxseed and other Omega-3 rich grains have fewer respiratory diseases. The cattle also have higher fertility rates, which helps offset infertility among dairy cattle.
The technology to enrich ground beef with Omega-3s is a spinoff of flaxseed research Drouillard began in 1998. Drouillard and his students studied flax for several of its omega-3 fatty acids that may suppress inflammation and reduce diabetes in cattle. Research showed that Omega-3 levels dramatically increased in the cattle as more flaxseed was introduced into their diet.
Keeping the Omega-3s from becoming saturated fats in cattle’s digestive system is a challenge, however. Microorganisms in the rumen – the largest chamber in the cow’s stomach – modify most of the ingested fats and turn them into saturated fats. This causes ground beef to have low levels of Omega-3s.
Christian Alvarado Gilis, a doctoral candidate in animal sciences and industry, is researching how to improve Omega-3 levels in cattle diets to further enhance the fat profile of beef. Gilis is from Chile.
According to Drouillard, substituting Omega-3 fatty acids for saturated fats does not change the ground beef’s flavor. “Knowing that there are a lot of desirable flavor characteristics associated with the fat in beef, we performed tons of sensory panel tests with KSU’s meat science faculty and with the department of human nutrition throughout the years to ensure that the flavor is not compromised,” Drouillard says. “We found that our panelists were never able to detect appreciable differences in the flavor profiles of the Omega-3 rich beef and non Omega-3 beef, even though the fats are quite different.”
The owners of NBO3 Technologies LLC have worked closely with Drouillard in developing the concept. After more than a decade of research on improving the enrichment process, they’ve started to distribute Omega-3 enriched ground beef to retailers and food vendors. The ground beef is part of the company’s line of Omega-3 enriched foods, which includes pork, chicken, cheese, milk, butter and ice cream. It will be the first ground beef to carry the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s seal of approval for containing Omega-3 fatty acids.
Todd Hansen, CEO of NBO3 Technologies LLC, says consumer response has been positive in test markets. “We have to leap two hurdles with GreatO Premium Ground Beef, which are that the omega-3 fatty acids are really in the beef, and that it doesn’t change the flavor,” Hansen says. “Based on our consumer response, we’ve cleared those hurdles. We really believe in the health aspect of this product and are using the slogan ‘When Every Bite Counts’ to emphasize that. I can’t wait for consumers to have it available to them.”
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