Science and tradition make Hanwoo beef unique
Oct. 26, 2012 - Despite its high price, beef from Hanwoo cattle is very popular in Korea. Hanwoo beef is known for its marbled fat and characteristic flavor. Today, scientists are looking at the cattle traits that have made Hanwoo cattle a Korean tradition for more than 4,000 years.
The tradition of raising Hanwoo cattle is closely tied to social conditions in Korea. Hanwoo cattle were originally bred as draft animals and for religious sacrifice. Hanwoo beef only became popular in the 1980s as many Koreans moved into the middle class.
“Before the 1980s, carcass yield was considered more important than meat quality because the overall beef supply had been insufficient in Korea. As the economic level in Korea has improved, the demand for meats has increased and more palatable meats have been preferred,” write a team of Korean researchers in the latest issue of Animal Frontiers.
They write that Korean consumers tend to prefer Hanwoo beef because they believe it is fresher and higher quality than imported beef. Hanwoo beef does tend to score well on quality tests. In a study comparing Hanwoo beef with imported Australian and U.S. beef, Korean evaluators gave Hanwoo beef better scores for tenderness, juiciness and flavor.
These results have inspired researchers to examine Hanwoo beef on a chemical level. Meat scientists have discovered that Hanwoo beef contains different kinds of fatty acids than Australian Angus beef. The beef from grain-fed Hanwoo cattle also contains different volatile compounds than beef from grass-fed Australian Angus.
“The management practices applied to produce Hanwoo beef can have some influence on production of the characteristic high quality beef,” write the Korean researchers.
During the growing stage, Hanwoo cattle are usually fed a restricted amount of concentrate and ad libitum of rice straw. Rations can also include agricultural co-products like soybean curd cake, citrus pomace, apple pomace and carrot pomace. Producers also restrict pen size to improve meat marbling and tenderness. Many producers age cattle to 31 months to fatten cattle and increase marbling in the meat.
These differences in diet and management can affect the composition of Hanwoo beef. Compared with Australian Angus cattle at time of slaughter, Hanwoo cattle have less subcutaneous fat depth and higher marbling scores. A 2005 study study showed that the average intramuscular fat content of Hanwoo loin was 11.3 percent and Australian Angus was 5.7 percent.
Just like many cattle producers in the United States, Korean Hanwoo producers are working to improve marbling scores and decrease production costs. Hanwoo beef is relatively new on the Korean market, but it has many loyal consumers.
“More diverse beef cuts and by-products are available in the Korean beef market,” write the Korean researchers. “In certain local markets, more than 100 unique cuts are sold.”
This paper is titled “Keys to production and processing of Hanwoo beef: A perspective of tradition and science.” It can be read in full at AnimalFrontiers.org.
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