The growing appetite for healthier eating habits encouraged Ana Teresa Ribeiro, PhD student at the University of Évora (UÉ), to pursue a goal that has apparently been achieved: to bring to market a healthy, ready-to-eat product with properties similar to those of a pork ham and with added value from a nutritional point of view. After five years of multiple experience led by Miguel Elias, professor in the UÉ Department of Phytotechnology, and Rogério Mendes, researcher at the Portuguese Institute for the Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA), Teresa Ribeiro added fish ham to the list of substitutes for pork ham.
Using fish, sea bass, and aquaculture croaker pulps caught in summer and winter, the use of different vegetable fibers, and two gelling technologies, the researcher looked for a product that was “healthier and more complete” as well as more appealing to satisfy preferences of the current consumer. The best option is the croaker-based product, especially the one caught in winter.
Miguel Elias explained to the PUBLIC that worrying about a healthy product does not prevent the use of the processing. The new ham must contain additives. It cannot be thought without it, but rather reduced to a minimum, ”notes the researcher.
Two vegetable fibers were added, microbial transglutaminase (MTGase) and konjac glucomannan (KGM), and the process of pasteurization and high pressure processing was used to “design and optimize the physical and functional properties of the product”. This latest technology, “relatively new to the food industry”, has increasingly been seen as an “alternative” to more traditional preservation methods such as heat treatment as it “allows for a more natural color and taste and color,” smoother, lighter and softer texture “, describes UÉ in a statement.
Miguel Elias also mentions an additional detail: since fish fibers are “less resistant to pork”, it became necessary to import natural fibers “in order to obtain a product suitable for the market. And above all, in order to achieve in other ways that people who normally do not like to include fish in their eating habits can do so through the new ham.
The conclusions about the product were drawn using chemical, physical and sensory analyzes as well as an online survey. The sensory evaluation was first carried out by eight trained tasters from IPMA and then applied to a group of children between the ages of six and eight, “because they are a target group of the product due to the high nutritional value,” explains the supervisor of the study.
The results of the analyzes suggested that the best formula is Croaker ham caught in winter and made with 0.5% microbial transglutaminase. In structural terms, the formula most similar to the intended one is the ham, which is subjected to high pressure processing with the combination of 350 megapascals for 10 or 20 minutes at a temperature of 30 ° C.
Regarding the coloring of the fish ham, the public evaluation carried out as part of an online survey found that preferences fell on the product made with a small part of cochineal, a natural coloring agent. This made it possible to reproduce not only the texture but also the color of the ham
This combination “was the final version” of the product, best suited to the structural characteristics and coloration identical to that of the pork ham, “without, however, affecting the sensory and nutritional properties of the product in its fish version”, underlines the Statement from the HUH.
The aim of the study was to “draw attention to the importance and great potential of the main national types of aquaculture production”, emphasizes Miguel Elisas, who hopes that “the market will accept the new product”, marketing this fish grown in Portugal will appreciate. Research on the application of fish pulp in food continues, whether it is related to curriculum internships or related to the food industry.
Research on fish-based ham was carried out at IPMA. Ana Teresa Ribeiro, at the UÉ Mediterranean Institute for Agriculture, Environment and Development, is dedicated to research and scientific and technological knowledge in the areas of sustainability of agro-ecosystems, the environment and territories, and food security.