question also provides the opportunity to mention to
readers the special "Meat"
section also on this site. There's lots to learn from
the information posted there.
With reference to a close-up look on tenderness, all
meat is composed of muscle fibers, connective tissue,
fat, and bone. One of the major influences on tenderness
is connective tissue.
The two types of connective tissue we hear about most
often are collagen
and elastin. Collagen surrounds individual muscle
fibers, as well as uniting bundles of muscle fibers
that make up the muscles themselves. Collagenous connective
tissue is also found in the tendons that attach muscle
to bone, as well as the skin and the bones. So, collagen
predominates over elastin in most cuts of meat, except
for some muscles in the round, the chuck (or shoulder
area), and some cuts from the legs. You can usually
distinguish the type of tissue by color. Collagenous
connective tissue appears pearly white, while connective
tissue in which elastin predominates is yellowish and
is usually removed by the butcher.
The relevance of connective tissue to cooking is that
collagen dissolves in hot water, so less tender cuts
where connective tissue is well developed benefit from
cooking with moisture. In contrast, fibers of elastin
are not tenderized by moist heat, and therefore remain
tough. In mature, well-exercised animals, connective
tissue is considered a major contributor to toughness.
Therefore, the quality of meat, where the cut comes
from on the carcass, and the cooking method all influence
In meat from younger animals with little-exercised muscles,
tenderness is strongly affected by how the carcass is
handled before being purchased by the consumer. About
24 hours after slaughter, the muscles become rigid and
stretch less easily in a process called rigor.
Cross-links form between components in the filaments
of the muscle fibers and become locked in place. This
is why aging is important, for given sufficient time
muscles regain their pliability. Aging is accomplished
in various ways. It's also a complex process in terms
of the changes that occur, and how quickly they take
place. However, it does improve tenderness.
We hope you'll continue to visit this site and check
out the discussion
forum. As you're both an amateur cook and a biologist,
you can likely add information from a different perspective.
That's what makes a lively discussion!
Anne and Sue