Review of comminuted and cooked meat product properties from a sol, gel and polymer viewpoint.

November 1992
R. A. LaBudde


Dr RA LaBudde does a great treatment of fine emulsions. There are of course many other excellent works on the subject but the language LaBudde used, I can understand!

I give the work of Dr LaBudde on the subject here in its entirety. It is important to remember that this is only one half of the equation. Meat processing is an art as much as it is a science. For the “art” we will feature the work of the Master Butcher from Saint Petersburg, from Russia, who gave the world fine meat emulsions, Petr Pakhomov.

The fact that we call the most famous fine emulsion sausage in South Africa, a Russian, comes from its Russian origin and was either introduced to South Africa by early immigrants or, more likely, by Russian volunteer who fought on the side of the Boers in the Anglo Boer War. Not just the Russians, but the people from the Balkans and Eastern Europe specialised in this and it was the Russians and East Europeans who brought this technology to America following World War One. People from the Russian steppe and surrounding regions pioneered the use of meat extenders and emulsifiers and fillers which probably developed from their milennia old soup technology. Fine emulsion sausages became important in America, after the war during sivere meat shortages. In central Africa the same sausage sold in South Africa as a Russian is called an Hungarian after the people who brough them the technology and traded it across the region. They produce it minus the showpieces and omitting these may be a later adaptation.

Petr Pakhomov is not just a Master Butcher, he is an artist and one of the best exponents of the art of fine meat emulsion. In a 2020 book he published on the subject, he writes: “This publication includes recipes for sausages from offal – an undervalued and rarely used raw material by sausages. On the counters of butcher shops there are hearts, liver, tongues – only these offal are well known to the townspeople and are in demand with them. The rumen, kidneys, brains, lungs, udders, properly prepared and cooked, are sometimes a discovery for people far from rural life. By-products allow you to create unusual in texture, very tasty, with a beautiful pattern on the cut, brawn, jellied, pate. A readily available and easy-to-use raw material is poultry meat. It serves as an excellent base for sausages and sausages, allowing you to play with taste thanks to the addition of various spice mixtures. The pale pink minced meat is a great backdrop for unusual cut patterns.”

“Of course, I have not ignored pork and beef products. My credo can be expressed by the words: “I paint with meat!” To make the sausage original, standing out on the counter among the usual – this task fascinates me. The appearance of the sausage product, the drawing on the cut should catch the eye of the buyer. Then comes the turn of consistency and taste, a successful combination of textures and spices.”

In this Petr strikes every single cord close to my hear and so, in celebration of his art and the science of Dr LaBudde I feature Petr’s work throughout the work of Dr LaBudde.


Comminuted and cooked meat products are viewed as water-plasticized, filled cell mixed-composite thermosetting plastic bio-polymer. This theoretical model is used to explain many factors influencing finished product quality attributes and to conjecture possible interactions between materials used in formulation. The relation between product texture and “bind” and “gel-strength” is described.


  1. Introduction
  2. Meat Process Control Concepts
  3. Meat Product Non-Chemical Properties
  4. Meat as a Polymer System
  5. Testing General Polymer Strength
  6. Testing Meat Product Gel Strength Properties
  7. Effects of Materials and Processing on Gel Strength
  8. Skin vs Bulk Strength
  9. Sensory Properties Influenced by Gel Strength
  10. Typical Lot-to-Lot Variation in a Frankfurter’s Texture

Exhibit 1: Process Control Logic
Exhibit 2: Force-Deformation Curve for Brittle Plastics
Exhibit 3: Force-Deformation Curve for Ductile Rubbers
Exhibit 4: Stress-Strain Relationship for Meats
Exhibit 5: Typical Lot-to-Lot Variation in Stress for a Frank

Appendix 1: Glossary
Appendix 2: Bibliography


Comminuted meat products include a wide range of consumable sausages: frankfurters, bologna, luncheon meats, smoked sausage, bratwursts, fresh sausage, ground meat, dry sausages and many others. We shall be principally concerned with cooked sausage which is intended to be bound together with some degree of strength in its manufacture. This is not intended to mean that this discussion is limited in applicability to these types of products, or even meat products in general, but to provide an example set of products for which the concepts described provide critical insight.

Most of the time we will be even more specific: the most frequent product examples used will be a frankfurter (cooked, fine-cut, eaten hot), a bologna (cooked, fine-cut, eaten cold) and a smoked sausage (cooked, ground, eaten hot). These particular products are sensitive to consumer perception of texture, represent a large volume of North American production and exemplify broad ranges of product categories.

Cooked sausage production of the frankfurter, bologna or smoked sausage types occurs in the following sequence of typical steps:

  1. The raw meats to be used are first ground to medium fineness. For lean meats (< 30% fat) this means to 3/16″ (5 mm) and for fat meats (> 30% fat) to 3/8″ (10 mm) or larger.
  2. The bulk of the meats used, together with 15% water and 2.5% salt and possibly sodium nitrite, are mixed together for 5 to 15 minutes at slow speed and dumped into vats.
  3. The “preblended” meats of Step 2 are left to age for 8 to 24 hours.
  4. A “final blend” is performed by mixing the “preblend” plus additional water together with sweeteners, spices and flavorings for 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. The “final blend” is dumped into an emulsification mill(s) or a fine grinder (< 1/8″ or 3mm).
  6. The fine-cut meat batter is stuffed into casings.
  7. The stuffed product is showered with liquid smoke and 2 – 4 % acetic acid.
  8. The product is cooked in a humidity and temperature controlled oven. A typical cook schedule might be: 30 min. @ 130 F (54 C), 30 min. @ 190 F (88 C). The humidity is low in the first stage, allowing the product to “shrink” and form a “skin”. The second stage will have a controlled humidity of at least 40% to promote rapid heat transfer. The product center temperature will be 160 to 170 F (71 to 77 C) leaving the oven.
  9. The cooked product is showered with cold water or brine for 15 to 30 minutes to bring its temperature to 35 F (2 C).
  10. The casings, if inedible, are removed by slitting and peeling.
  11. The product is packaged under vacuum or modified atmosphere.
    Cooked meat products are composed of a variety of basic substances: moisture, fat and protein (comprising some 94% of the weight), salts (2 – 3%) and carbohydrates (3 – 4%). The carbohydrates include starches, sugars and fiber. These constituents are the real raw materials used in making meat products: the raw meats are simply variable “preblends” of moisture, fat, protein, etc.


Process control is composed of five basic steps (see Exhibit 1):
1) Measurement,
2) Standards or Targets,
3) Comparison of Measured to Standards,
4) Plan of Action, and
5) Implementation of the Indicated Action.

Obviously no control will be exerted if no observations of the process output are made (“open loop”). Similarly, measurements by themselves would supply little value if there were not a desired target to compare to, and if this comparison is not made, the size, if any, of the correction needed would be indeterminate. A pre-defined plan of action is essential to avoid “human-in-the-loop” over- and under-correction. The selection of which, if any, corrective action is needed must be based on the objective size of the difference from targets or standards.

It is very important to realize that proper control requires not only the measurements of the process average and its deviation from target, but also the process variation and its deviation from its standard operating range. Only after the process variation is brought under control is the process average a meaningful quantity.

Process control on cooked sausage involves measurement of average values and variation on basic analytical, nutritional, microbiological and sensory properties.

Generally by government regulation or company-imposed standards, the moisture, fat, protein, salt and nutritional content (calories, type of fat, cholesterol, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates) and microbiological content of the product will be constrained to at least onesided limits.

Process planning and control on such analytical attributes is based on the following typical steps:

  1. Each raw material used (meats, flavorings, etc.) is characterized by laboratory analysis of successive lot samples. The frequency of sampling and accuracy of analysis is tailored to be sufficiently predictive without excess expense.
  2. Each product batch is formulated to obtain a desired target value on each attribute. The target is designed to provide protection against process and material variability causing the actual production lot value from violating the outgoing specification requirement.
  3. For easily measured attributes (moisture, fat, protein), a laboratory analysis of the production blend may be performed, and the error in target reduced by addition of “correction” materials in the final blend.
  4. Samples of production lots are taken as packaged and subjected to quality assurance testing to verify compliance with outgoing specifications.

In addition to analyte attribute control, consumer acceptance of a product requires sufficient consistency in certain sensory properties of the cooked sausage. The attributes of most importance include:

  1. Skin Texture
  2. Bulk Texture or “Bind”
  3. Skin Color
  4. Bulk Color
  5. Saltiness
  6. Sweetness
  7. Flavor (from spice, etc.)
  8. Purge loss
  9. Net Weight
  10. Shrinkage (Moisture loss in processing)

With the exception of net weight, these attributes are subject to only internally-imposed limits. Consequently the means of their control require development of methods not required or sponsored by regulatory organizations. The development of methods of measurement and control has therefore been left to company or university research and has lagged behind the other attributes non-specific to meat products.


The cooked sausage non-analytical properties mentioned above (texture, color, etc.), although not determinable by chemical analysis, are still important to monitor and control.

Skin texture is the chief component of the “bite” of a product. The skin is “tougher” than the product interior provides an initial “snap” during eating. Products with edible (natural or collagen) casings can be manufactured as tough as desired. Skinless products only retain a softer protein-based skin due to smoke, acid and initial oven treatments. A proper balance between skin and internal texture is necessary. Too tough a skin will create the sensation of a “mushy” interior, which may be squeezed out of the skin during biting. Too soft a skin will cause the product to be uniform in texture with little “snap”.

Skin color is principally determined by smoke and acid treatments, and secondarily by the initial oven stage (temperature and humidity) and meat pigment content. Skin color is of importance only in small diameter product, and its darkness is a matter of taste. In products where skin color is important, consistency from batch-to-batch and within-batch is the primary issue.

Bulk texture is the chief component of the “chew” or intermediate and final texture on eating. Too weak a bulk texture and the product will seem “mushy”, too tough and the product will seem “rubbery”. Bulk texture is of critical importance in sliced product, or product with special strength needs, such as corn dogs.

Similarly, bulk color is of importance only in sliced products. Bulk color is determined almost entirely by nitrite level, meat pigment content and the final cook stage time and temperature. Preblend holding time is also a factor.

Saltiness, sweetness and flavor are normally controlled by set addition levels of salt, sweeteners and flavorings in the blend. No measurement normally occurs, with the exception of routine taste tests.

Purge loss or “syneresis” is a serious issue in vacuum packaged products. Significant liquid in the package creates the impression of defective or spoiled product. This liquid is an inconvenience to the consumer (drainage from package after opening) and encourages bacterial growth. Purge loss in bulk-packaged products may cause container damage or contamination, and will affect the net weight per unit of the product at the time of use.

Net weight per package or per unit is a function of stuffing level, process shrink and purge loss. Variation in stuffing level or cook shrink will cause variation in the net weight at the time of packaging. Excessive net weight variation will directly increase product weight “giveaway”. Product used in further processing, such as “corn dogs”, may have problems meeting its final combined product labeling requirements.


Meat products have long been subject to mis-classification by researchers using inappropriate technical terms.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the uncooked meat batter was described as an “emulsion” and the “emulsifying” properties of the meat proteins were thought to dominate the development of cooked product textural attributes. This led to flawed arguments regarding causal relationships between processing, materials used and final product properties.

From the late 1980’s to the 1990’s, researchers discarded the “emulsion” concept for a different viewpoint of a meat “sol” converting to a “gel” upon cooking. These terms are, however, still misnomers since “sol” and “gel” are applicable only to dilute (< 10%) colloidal dispersions.

Technically the uncooked meat mixture is a “paste”, not an “emulsion” or “sol”, since solids content is 40% or more. Upon cooking to a high enough temperature, the “paste” sets to hardened “plastic” material.

Because of these misclassifications, there is considerable confusion in the use of colloid science terms to describe meat systems. To avoid creating an entirely new vocabulary, we will use the current terminology of “gelling” or “gelation” synonymously for “setting” or “hardening”.

“Meat” is the protein-rich flesh of animals. For our purposes here, fish and poultry flesh are “meat”. As stated before, cooked sausage products are a mix of water, fat, protein, salts and carbohydrates gelled and set into a solid mass by the application of heat.

The principal functionality in forming the gelled and set mass comes from the long-chain proteins present and to a lesser extent from the long-chain carbohydrates (starches and gums). When the meat paste is heated above the set-point temperature, the long-chain molecules, supported in solution or at least hydrated by water, are forced to partially uncoil and form irreversiblez cross-linkages. The result is a three-dimensional crosslinked matrix which incorporates the water, fats, salts and fillers within its structure.

A simple paradigm for the mechanism involved is the hard-boiling of a common hen’s egg. The egg is initially liquid and is composed mostly of protein and water with a small amount of fat. When heat is applied above the “set-point” temperature, the protein unfolds and aggregates, forming the rubbery hard-boiled egg consistency. As is obvious, the water component is just as essential as the protein component: dried eggs do not hard boil! The water hydrates the protein molecules and allows mobility for unfolding and crosslinking.

The salts present in the water phase help ionically stabilize the unfolded protein molecules so that its structure can be more easily exposed. The function of salt may be easily seen by adding it to the water used to hard-boil an egg. If the shell is cracked so that a streamer of egg-white is forced out by internal pressure on heating, the presence of salt in the water will cause it to instantly coagulate and seal the crack.

To some extent fats also stabilize hydrophobic protein exposure. They also serve, with other water-insoluble components, simply to fill space and stiffen the protein matrix formed.

Starches and gums will hydrogen-bond and crosslink similar to proteins, and bind appreciable amounts of water. Generally the gelling temperature for such compounds is 90 C or higher, which is seldom obtained in meat processing. Non-gelling or insoluble carbohydrates principally act as mild water binders and matrix fillers. The strength of water-binding is moderate and due to capillary action and hydrogen-bonding, as opposed to irreversible crosslinking. The crystalline nature of a cooled starch gel results in a brittle texture which has little strength after fracture.

Non-meat proteins which are soy- or milk-based (soy flour, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, casein) have gel-points of 90 C or more, and function similar to starches in hydrogen-bonding with water to form weak gels at low temperatures.

Since meat’s texture is due to its property of heat-induced long-chain gelling or setting, cooked meat is classifiable as a water-plasticized, filled-cell mixed-composite thermosetting plastic biopolymer.

The word “polymer” denotes long-chain macromolecules which are crosslinked, such as proteins or starches.

The word “plasticizer” indicates that water is the filling solvent that hydrates the polymer and supports its “plastic” behavior.

The word “mixed” denotes possible crosslinking between different polymers, such as different proteins or proteins and cross-linked gums or starches.

The “fillers” present in meat products are fat or insolubles: in rubber tires, it is the carbon that makes the rubber black. Fillers normally will “stiffen” a plastic or rubber, making it harder and less stretchable. Sometimes fillers are active (such as the carbon in rubber tires) and actually bind to the setting polymers present. In this case the filler may increase strength dramatically (ten times or more), and out of proportion to its relative presence on a formula basis.

Additional plasticizer will soften and make more stretchable the polymer matrix. Removal of plasticizer will make the plastic harder and more “brittle” (i.e., less stretchable).

Skin texture in casingless product is formed in a more complicated manner. The proteins are gelled not only through the heat of cooking, but also through the mechanisms of water loss (shrinkage), pH (acid rinse) and smoke application. Therefore only proteins and carbohydrates which gel under these conditions will reinforce “skin” formation. Other materials will in general weaken skin strength by dilution or formation of flaw points.


In order to understand the significance of tests performed on meat products, it is necessary to first review the mechanical strength principles of the general polymer system.

There is an extensive literature associated with the theory and testing of the mechanical strength or plastics, rubbers and composites. (See Appendix 2.)

The terminology of mechanical properties is vague and confusing, since it has developed to describe the results of very specific test techniques. Appendix 1 gives a glossary of definitions of most common terms.

A typical experiment consists of applying a changing force needed to maintain a constant rate of deformation of a test specimen of specific shape (cross-section and length). The fraction deformation in the direction of force is called the “strain” and the force per unit cross-sectional area is called the “stress”. In experiments where theory is not easily applied, the force and deformation are reported. Where geometry can be analyzed properly, the stress and strain are reported. Force is usually measured in Newtons (N) or kilograms-force (kgf). Deformation is reported as % change. Stress has units of Pascals (usually megapascals, MPa). Strain is dimensionless.

Tests may be performed by compressing, stretching (tension) or twisting (torsion) the specimen. For brittle materials, different strengths are obtained for each mode of testing. For ductile materials, the results from different modes are close.

Measurements of stress and strain for very small deformations allow characterization of the elastic properties of a material, chiefly the Modulus of Elasticity (compression/tension) or Rigidity (torsion).

Large deformations (more than a few %) lead to plastic behavior where the material starts to yield under stress. In this case the quantities of interest are the Maximum Stress and Strain at Maximum Stress. Most tests do not strain the material to more than 25% of its original length, because of unusually behavior occurring when the geometry undergoes large changes.

Viscoelastic and viscoplastic materials are sensitive to the strain rates used in testing: fast rates require higher stresses. As a consequence tests are done at an accepted or specified strain rate, or must be repeated at various strain rates.

Testing done on general polymers falls into three categories:

  1. ELASTIC TESTING: Done at low levels of deformation, usually by oscillatory stressing to determine dynamical properties of the modulus at various strain rates.
  2. FAILURE TESTING: Done at large levels of deformation, usually at a constant strain rate, until the specimen breaks. The reported values are Break Stress and Break Strain.
  3. MODULUS TESTING: Done at fixed levels of strain, such as 90% or 75% (greater than 75% is not recommended). The stress required to achieve this level of deformation is reported.

The dynamical Elastic Testing is normally done only in research. Failure testing is done in research, where usually the whole stress-strain curve is reported, or as an engineering test to quantify the strength at failure. Modulus testing is routinely used in quality control on polymers with important mechanical properties.

Exhibit 2 shows a typical stress-strain curve for a brittle material, such as concrete or styrofoam. Note that at a particular level of strain the material fractures suddenly and the stress required drops to zero.

Exhibit 3 shows a typical stress-strain curve for a ductile or rubbery material, such as polyurethane. Note that after a certain stress or strain occurs, the material starts to yield (become plastic) and the stress drops and appears to fail to a nearly constant value while the material creeps. Once a certain strain occurs, the material becomes harder again (all the “give” used up) and the stress increases to another maximum before the material breaks.

In both Exhibits 2 and 3 you will notice that the initial portions of the stress-strain curves are straight lines (with a slope of the Modulus): this is the Proportional Region. Before the material starts to yield in Exhibit 3, the material would return to nearly its original shape if the stress were removed: this is the Elastic Region. In the testing of rubber-like materials, it is not infrequent to find an absence of the linear Elastic Region. These materials “strain-harden” continuously to a new material whose Elastic Region is approached after noticeable elongation.

In order to specify the mechanical properties of a general plastic, it is usually sufficient to report the Modulus of Elasticity (compression), Modulus of Elasticity (tension), Modulus of Rigidity (shear) and Maximum Stress and Strain for each mode.


The importance of texture has led to a variety of measurement methods in the last three decades. They fall into the raw material and outgoing product test categories.


The dominant effect of meat salt-soluble proteins on the resulting texture of the product led in the 1960’s and 1970’s to the “Georgia Bind” test of Saffle and co-workers (see Appendix 2 for references).

This test involves the extraction of salt-soluble protein from raw meat samples in a standard way, and then determination of a relative functionality of this salt-soluble protein by an oilemulsification test. The amount of oil sustained in a blender at a particular speed for a particular (10 mg/ml) concentration of salt-soluble protein defines the functionality of that protein. Combining the two effects of % protein salt-solubility and oil-functionality gives the “Bind Constant” or “Bind Index” for the meat.

The “Bind Constants” determined are then used to formulate a product to a specified level of texture, usually specified as the average of

Bind Constant x Protein x 100 %

on a finished weight basis. The resulting “BIND” levels formulated to are typically 200 – 220 % FW for beef products, 180 – 190 for 30% beef and 30% pork products, and 170 – 180 for pork dominant products. Poultry products vary from limits set to 170 – 180 (similar to pork) for products formulated to tighter specifications, to 250+ for chicken franks that are low fat and not adjusted to maximum water content.

The “BIND” values for raw meats are seldom actually measured. Instead, the tabulated results of the Saffle workers are used, possibly adjusted for proximate analysis variations (via the QC Assistanttm of Least Cost Formulations). The presumption is that the “Bind Constants” for the actual meat lots are not too far from the tabulated values, particularly when adjusted for proximate analysis differences.

This “BIND” concept has worked fairly well in practice over the last two decades. Change of the formulated “BIND” of 10 to 15 units will usually result in a sensible change in texture. The standard deviation of measurement of the original “Bind Constants” was approximately 5 to 7%, about the same as the 10 to 15 units is to the 170 to 220 unit limit.

The principal difficulties with the “BIND” concept are:

  1. The concept is inapplicable to many fillers and binders.
  2. The test is not easily repeatable between laboratories because the methodology is sensitive to equipment used.
  3. The effects of processing are not considered and assumed constant.
  4. The effects of fat and moisture are not determinable, other than of dilution, and modern meat products have shifted from 30% fat to 10% fat and lower.

The Saffle “BIND” concept has, whatever its limits, revolutionized meat product formulation accuracy and has provided a basic solution to texture control in cooked sausage.


The few large meat companies which can afford pilot plants in their R & D facilities will usually also include a Universal Tester system (such as Instron, Chatillon or others).

These testers can perform vertical compression or tension tests at constant strain rates in a heavyduty test stand with a chuck to contain a test probe and a force gauge (of at least 1% full-scale accuracy) to measure the stress applied. The tester provide chart recorder output which indicates force vs time (which gives deformation via the constant strain rate) for the entire crosshead movement.

Because of the design of the machine and the properties of the meat samples being tested, usually a compression test is performed using either a cylindrical, flat probe of 5 to 12.5 mm diameter, or a spherical probe of 5 to 10 mm diameter. The spherical probe test with a 10 mm ball is routinely performed on all lots of surimi.

Universal Testing Machines cost from $5,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on features.

The most reliable compressive test is measurement of the peak force required to puncture the sample. As deformation occurs, the stress rises rapidly and linearly to a first maximum, then undergoes a complex pattern, followed by a second maximum and then failure. Unfortunately there is little consensus as to the shape of the probe (flat vs ball) or which point on the force vs deformation curve to use as the measurement. Some investigators report the first maximum, others the second. It appears that only the first maximum is a reliable predictor of the material properties, since the curve after initial puncture is subject to side friction. In addition, the test results are influenced by the rate of cross-head speed and the diameter of the probe used, all of which vary between investigators.

Other labs report the results of compression to a fixed deformation, such as 90% of height, 80% of height or 75% of height and sometimes even 50%. These tests are particularly difficult to reproduce, since these fixed deformations are not extrema in the force vs deformation curves but instead are on a side slope of rapid change. Consequently slight changes in mounting, deformation or material or cross-head speed may result in significantly different forces being measured.

In the best of circumstances, the precision of the measurement between replicates is 5 to 10%, chiefly due to the incomplete homogeneity of the meat product structure (4 to 6%) and its response to the compressive deformation. Tests are usually run on 5 to 10 replicates to average out within product and instrument variation.

Only the surimi industry has standardized the probe and cross-head speed for the compression test to failure: a 10 mm diameter spherical ball. No standard of any time seems to exist for this type of test in the meat industry.

Because of the inability to apply theory to the complex deformations and unknown contact surfaces involved in the vertical compression test, the results are normally reported as force and deformation rather than stress and strain. A nominal stress of doubtful validity could be obtained by dividing the flat and spherical probe forces by p r2.


A recent and increasingly popular method of meat product texture measurement is the torsional “gelometer” developed by Lanier and Hamann at North Carolina State University (see Appendix 2 for references).

This system twists a standard hourglass-shaped specimen at a constant angular rate (2.5 rpm = 15 degrees/s) until it fails. The entire stress-strain curve is available, with the maximum stress and strain reported.

The specimen is cut to a standard length (about 20 mm) and plastic plates are glued to each end.

The standard hourglass shape is obtained by chipping a specimen to shape using a special knifetoothed lathe wheel. The sample is necked to 10 mm + 0.2 mm.

The specimen in mounted in a specially modified Brookfield viscometer with a 1% full-scale accuracy digital head. The specimen is rotated by turning the top plastic plate while the bottom plate is held fixed.

This test is relatively well-designed, with the geometry of the specimen chosen to be amenable to theoretical analysis. The force and rotational deformation are easily converted to nominal stress and true strain by the application of formulas incorporating the specimen geometry, rotational speed and effect of twisting.

The stress and strain measured in the NCSU torsional gelometer are statistically independent measurables. The reproducibility of strain is about 4 to 6% standard deviation, and of stress about 5 to 10%. The stress error is inflated by the 5% typical instrument error at the 20% of fullscale encountered on meat products. From 5 to 20 replicates are usually run to average out between specimen and instrument errors.

Because of its sound theoretical basis, the NCSU gelometer is the instrument of choice for research, providing a detailed stress-strain curve for each test. It is, however, much more laborintensive than other test methods, due to milling of the specimen.

The NCSU torsional gelometer is available at a cost of about $15,000 from Drs. Lanier and Hamann (Gel Technology, Raleigh, NC).


Cooked meat products, such as frankfurters or bologna, are, as mentioned before, filled cellular plastics where a three-dimensional cross-linked protein structure encapsulates water, fat and fillers.

Time of chopping or mastication will affect final strength, due to development of active ends of severed protein molecules. In addition chopping reduces fat particle size, breaks the containing fat cell layers, and melts fat droplets allowing surface smearing to take place.

Because meat products are composed of protein macromolecules which retain some alignment of the direction of stuffing, they exhibit “anisotropy” or directionality of strength. The stress and strain to failure will in general differ longitudinally and laterally to the stuffing axis. The effect of stuffing is to pre-stress and pre-strain the product in the direction of stuffing, reducing the longitudinal strain possible and stiffening the gel.

As a product ages in the package after production, it will gradually relax the embedded strain which has been “cooked” into the gel, increasing the strain and decreasing the stress needed for failure.

Filled composites generally exhibit increased strength in compression and decreased strength in tension. Consequently it would generally be expected that adding inert or insoluble materials (and displacing moisture) will stiffen the structure to compression and lower the strain needed for failure. However both stress and strain would be lowered in tension.

As a consequence, adding such fillers not bound to the stronger protein structure would be expected to lower skin strength, where the test condition is perpendicular to the skin, resulting in failure by shear or tension. Such fillers include non-gelling proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Since moisture functions as a plasticizer, increasing moisture content would imply increased ability to strain, and a softer product (due to displacement of non-liquid ingredients).

Strength and strain at failure will be directly related to protein content: under ideal circumstances proportional to the active protein.

The effect of moisture loss through shrinkage is twofold: a drop in the plasticizer percentage and an increase in the percentage of other materials, including protein. Consequently the strength of a “shrunk” product will be larger than that of the “unshrunk” product by at least the percentage shrink [ 1/(1-s) ], and the strain to failure lower by approximately the shrink [ 1-s ].

Fillers with high water-holding capacity will effectively de-plasticize the system, resulting in ower strains to failure and higher stresses.

The time and temperature the product is cooked at will have a modest influence on the gel strength. Product cooked to 5 C or 10 C higher temperature or for 10 minutes longer will generally gel more fully, resulting in both increased stress and strain at failure. Since the gel process is analogous to the microbiological “kill” effect of cooking (bacteria are proteins too!), it is easy to see that cooking has a natural completion, where nearly 100% conversion occurs. Therefore very short cook cycles the lowest final temperatures will exhibit the greatest sensitivity to these variables.

The effects of salt level are to shift the pH sensitivity of the proteins and stabilize functional groups to the surrounding water. Higher salt levels generally will increase strength due to greater protein mechanical extraction, greater unfolding (resulting in increased cross-linkages) and lower the gel point temperature (resulting in more complete gelling in the cook cycle).

The effects of phosphate or lactate include:

1) increase in ionic strength (salt effect),

2) increase in pH and

3) special interactions to stabilize unfolded proteins.

Skin formation is generally due only to the meat myofibrillar proteins. The higher shrink losses from the skin areas mean the structure is pre-strained and stressed. Displacement of the moisture plasticizer by any non-bonding materials will generally decrease the strain to failure, making the skin more brittle. Since the skin properties of interest are normally tensile or shear strengths, such fillers will generally also decrease the skin strength, or at best leave it unchanged.

The mechanism for meat product deformation of 100% to 150% before failure is due to the protein chain length. The long protein molecules may be visualized as springy coils which are crosslinked to neighboring coils in random patterns. When strain occurs in a specific direction, the protein molecules uncoil into a more linear conformation. This requires free space (solvated by plasticizer) and mobility to accomplish. Clearly there is only so much “uncoiling” that can occur: if pre-stretching is accomplished by volume compression due to cook shrink or by stuffing distortion, less deformation will be available during testing or eating.

The protein content of cooked meat products is usually between 10 and 20% of the composition, or a minor constituent compared to moisture and fat. Consequently the stress and strain observed for a product will increase at least linearly with protein, and quadratically for low levels of protein.

Collagen protein contracts by 10% or more upon reaching its gel-point of 60 C, and therefore has the effect of straining the entire thermoset product.

Fat generally expands by 10% or more upon melting, and therefore stresses and strains the product before complete setting has taken place. It is essential that the fat droplets be coated with a closed-cell protein structure or embedded in a strainable gel to protect the structure against fracture by fat expansion with concomitant leakage of liquid fat along these fractures to relieve the stress imposed.

It is an interesting fact that most cooked muscle foods exhibit a modulus of rigidity between 10 and 20 kPa (see Exhibit 4).

The ultimate stress needed for a particular product will change substantially with the temperature at time of test. The viscosity of the fat present will change markedly below room temperature as the fat congeals and becomes crystalline. The stress needed at 35 F may be twice that at 70 F. The ultimate stress above room temperature should drop at least linearly with increasing temperature up to the gel-point at a rate of 0.1 – 0.3% per degree C.


As mentioned in the last sections, there is a fundamental difference in the mechanical properties of interest of the skin and of the bulk product:

  1. PROCESSING: Skin properties are primarily and directly affected by processing steps such as smoke treatment, acid treatment and early cook stages. Bulk properties are, however, primarily affected only by the final cook stage.
  2. TENSION vs COMPRESSION: The skin is bitten through perpendicular to its surface, so strength in tension and shear are the quantities of interest. The bulk interior is masticated by chewing, which means that strength in compression and shear are the quantities of interest.
  3. FILLERS: Fillers, such as fats, carbohydrates, non-meat proteins, etc., generally will decrease skin strength, even though the meat protein level stays the same, but will generally increase the bulk strength, even if the moisture level is unchanged.
  4. MECHANICAL SUPPORT: Testing of specimens for skin strength involve imposition of perpendicular loads to a thin layer, drawing upon mechanical support from the product surface large distances away. On the other hand, bulk compression or shearing remains local, so long as the test probe used is small in invasive volume. As a consequence, independent measures of skin strength and bulk strength should be made.


The “+” in the above table indicates the parameter is positively highly correlated with the factor (e.g., increasing maximum stress increases hardness). A “-” indicates the parameter is negatively correlated with the factor (e.g., increasing maximum stress lowers ease-of-swallow). No entry in the table indicates no significant direct correlation.

As mentioned before, skin and bulk texture need to be considered separately. A “good” frank, for example, should have enough skin strength to provide a noticeable “snap”, but not so strong that it is difficult to bite or so that the frank “bursts” on eating. The bulk texture should be strong enough to be “chewy”, but not so strong as to appear “rubbery”. Some markets (e.g., Far East) or some products (e.g., canned Vienna sausage) may require a “mushier” product standard than North American franks.


Exhibit 5 shows an actual record the ultimate stress (as determined by the NCSU torsional gelometer) of successive batches of a frankfurter over days of production.







Binder: In a composite plastic, the continuous phase that holds together the reinforcing materials.

Break, Failure or Fracture Strength: The stress at the breakpoint.

Break, Fracture or Failure Point: The discontinuous point at which the specimen separates and the stress drops to zero rapidly.

Brittleness: The property of a material to fail under a small deformation.

Brittle materials usually behave differently under tension and compression.

Brittle materials are usually weak in tension and strong in compression.

Cell: A small cavity surrounded partially or completely by walls.

Cell, Open: A cell not totally enclosed by its walls.

Cell, Closed: A cell totally enclosed by its walls.

Colloid: A substance in an extremely fine state of subdivision dispersed in a continuous medium, where the principal properties of surfaces and interfaces play the dominant role.

Colloidal solution: A dilute colloidal dispersion of a lyophilic particles, usually molecularly dispersed and thermodynamically stable as a single-phase system.

Creep: The time change of strain under a fixed stress.

Crosslinking: The formation of a 3-dimensional polymer by means of interchain reactions resulting in changes to physical properties.

Deformation: The decrease in length from the gage length due to compressive force applied.

Dilatant: A material which hardens upon imposed shear. (Opposite of “Thixotropic”.)

Disperse phase: The discontinuous phase of a colloidal mixture.

Dispersion medium: The continuous phase of a colloidal mixture.

Ductility: The property of a material to have large plastic deformations without rupturing.

Ductile materials have almost identical tension and compression stress-strain curves.

Elasticity: The property of returning quickly and completely to initial geometry after unloading.

Elastic Limit: The greatest stress to which a material may be subjected without permanent strain resulting (i.e., the specimen recovers its original dimensions).

Elastomer: A macromolecular material that at room temperature returns rapidly to approximately its original dimensions and shape after a substantial deformation by a weak stress.

Elastoplasticity: The property of retaining partially and permanently a deformation after unloading.

Electrophoresis: The movement of particles with respect to a liquid as a result of an applied electric field.

Elongation or Extension: The increase in length from the gage length due to the force imposed.

Emulsion: A stable dispersion of one liquid in another, usually water and an oil or organic compound. Two types exists: oil-in-water (“O/W”) and water-in-oil (“W/O”), depending on which compound is the disperse and which is the continuum phase. Stability requires the presence of a third material, an “Emulsifying Agent”, which stabilizing the oil/water interface.

Fiber: A plastic which has been crystallized by “Strain Hardening” to form a greatly stronger oriented or interlocking structure longitudinally.

Filler: A sometimes inert and sometimes functional material added in the particulate solid phase to a plastic to modify its properties or lower its costs. If functional to a high degree, they are called “Reinforcing Fillers”.

Flexibility: The property of a material to have large elastic deformations without rupturing.

Foam: Gaseous dispersion (usually air) in a liquid continuum.

Gage Length: The original length of a test specimen over the portion over which the strain is being determined. For tensile or compressive tests, the height of the narrow region. For torsional tests, the circumference of the narrow region.

Gel: A two-component semi-solid system, rich in liquid (< 10% gelling component), made of a network of solid aggregates in which liquid is held. A hardened “sol”.

Gelation: The process of hardening or “setting” of a sol into a material with solid-like properties.

Gel-Point: The stage at which a liquid mass begins to exhibit pseudo-elastic behavior, the inflection point in viscosity vs time.

Glass: A product of freezing, typically hard and brittle, which has cooled to rigidity without crystallizing.

Glass Transition: The reversible change over a relatively small temperature region in amorphous polymers to a viscous or rubbery condition from a hard and brittle condition.

Glass Transition Temperature: The approximate midpoint of the temperature range over which a glass-to-rubber transition occurs. Hofmeister series: See “Lyotropic Series”.

Hydrocolloid: A material capable of forming a colloidal suspension in water.

Hydrogel: A gel formed from a material dispersed in water as a medium. Hydrophilic: A disperse phase which has a high chemical affinity for the water dispersion medium.

Hydrophobic: A disperse phase which has a low chemical affinity for the water dispersion medium.

Lyophilic: A disperse phase which has a high chemical affinity for the dispersion medium.

Lyophobic: A disperse phase which has a low chemical affinity for the dispersion medium.

Lyotropic series: A series of cations or anions in order of coagulating power (e.g., Li+ > Na+ > K+ or Cl- > Br- > I-).

Micelle: A submicroscopic aggregate of colloidal polymers usually oriented with respect to a dispersion medium (lyophilic out and lyophobic in).

Modulus of Elasticity or Elastic Modulus or Young’s Modulus: The slope of stress vs strain below the proportional limit in tensile or compressive testing.

Modulus of Rigidity: See Shear Modulus.

Necking: localized reduction in cross-section in tensile tests.

Nonrigid Plastic: A plastic which has a modulus of elasticity of 70 Megapascals or less. All cooked food gels have moduli of 1 MPa or less.

Pascal: A unit force of 1 Newton applied to a cross-sectional area of 1 square meter. 1 atmosphere of pressure is 101325 Pa or 101.325 kPa or 0.101325 MPa.

Peptization: From analogy to peptic digestion, the spontaneous dispersion of a precipitate to form a colloid.

Percentage Elongation: The elongation expressed as a percentage of gage length. Different percentage elongations will be observed at yield and at break.

Paste: A concentrated (> 10% by volume) dispersion of solid particles in a liquid continuum.

Plastic: A material that has as an essential ingredient one or more organic macromolecule, is solid in its finished state, and at some stage in processing can be shaped by flow. Rubbers, textiles, adhesives and paint are not classified as plastics.

Plasticity: The property of retaining permanently and completely a deformed shape after unloading.

Plasticizer: A substance incorporated in a material to increase its workability, flexibility or distensibility.

Plastisol: A plastic or resin dissolved in a plasticer to give a pourable liquid.

Polymer: A substance consisting of repeating units of one or more monomers.

Proportional Limit: The greatest stress for which stress vs strain is a straight line through the origin.

Purge: The syneresis of water from a meat product over time.

Rate of Straining: The change in nominal strain per unit time. Plastic materials become “stiffer” when faster deformations are required. Consequently results at different strain rates will generally differ significantly in a systematic manner. For non-rigid materials, usually 1.5 per minute (150% elongation in 1 minute or 2.5% per second).

Rate of Stressing: The change in nominal stress applied per unit time. See Rate of Straining.

Reinforced Plastic: A plastic with high-strength fillers embedded, resulting in mechanical properties enhanced over the unfilled plastic.

Rheology: The study of mechanical properties, particularly flow, ductility and plasticity, or concentrated colloidal systems.

Rubber: A material capable of recovering from large deformations quickly and forcibly. From a test point of view, a rubber will retract from 100% elongation to 50% elongation in less than 1 minute at room temperature.

Shear Modulus of Elasticity or Modulus of Rigidity: The slope of shear stress vs strain below the proportional limit in torsional testing.

Sol: The dilute (less than 1% by volume) dispersion of a lyophobic solid in a liquid or gaseous medium. The dispersion medium is usually denoted by a prefix, such as “hydrosol” (water) or “aerosol” (air).

Strain or Nominal Strain: The ratio of elongation or compressive deformation to gage length. If the specimen retains its original dimensions, the strain is 0. Note that, as with nominal stress, strain may not be meaningful if the specimen geometry is seriously distorted during test.

Strain Hardening: The process of increasing strength by elongation by strain to produce apartially crystallized fiber.

Strength, Nominal: The maximum nominal stress sustained by the specimen during the test.

Stress, Nominal: The force per unit area (N/m2 = Pascal) of minimum original cross-section. If the specimen deforms significantly under test (“yields”), necking, stretching or bulging may occur to an extent that the nominal “stress” is not a meaningful quantity.

Syneresis: The spontaneous shrinkage of a gel to form a more concentrated gel and free exuded dispersion medium.

Thermoplastic: A plastic that can be repeatedly softened and hardened by heating and cooling to and from a flow-shapable state.

Thermoset: A plastic that, after having been cured by heat or other means, is substantially infusible and insoluble.

Thixotropic: A material which has lowered viscosity on increased shear (e.g., liquefied by shaking). Notable example is quicksand, which acts liquid under force.

Toe Compensation: The correction for the initial “ramp-up” of stress required to take up equipment slack at the start of testing.

Toughness: The property of a material to withstand large deformations or stresses before failure.

True Strain: The strain corrected for known standard geometry changes necessary under test which affect length. For a tensile test, true strain is the natural logarithm of 1 plus the nominal strain (ratio of after to before length).

Ultimate Strength or Maximum Strength: The maximum stress encountered during testing.

Viscoelasticity: The property of continuously creeping under load and continuously retreating after unloading, with a return to original form after some lapse of time.

Viscoplasticity: The property of continuous creeping under load and a retention of the deformed shape after unloading.

Viscosity: The resistance to flow within the body of a material.

Work to Failure or Fracture: The integrated force through deformation or stress through strain to cause breakage or rupture of the specimen. A measure of “Toughness”.

Yield Point: The first point at which the strain increases without an increase in stress. Usually at a maximum in stress, but may also be at an inflection point in stress.

Yield Strength: The stress at the yield point.



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