Think of it as a hamburger with all the most healthful fish qualities.
A Manhattan-based firm will begin marketing later this month a ground beef product enriched with omega 3 fatty acids, the substance prevalent in fish that has been shown to reduce heart disease, cholesterol and high blood pressure.
The enrichment technique was developed by Jim Drouillard, a professor of animal sciences and industry at Kansas State University. The ground beef is being marketed as GreatO Premium Ground Beef through NBO3 Technologies. It will be available mid-month at select retailers in Buffalo, N.Y., and will expand to leading retailers and restaurants nationwide later this year.
Drouillard said a quarter-pound hamburger made of the enriched ground beef has 200 milligrams of omega-3s and tastes the same as regular ground beef, making it an alternative for people who want to add or increase their omega-3 fatty acids intake but do not want fish or supplements to do so. The U.S. does not have a recommended daily intake of omega-3s, but many doctors and nutritionists recommend between 1,200-1,600 milligrams daily, depending on a person’s age and health.
“As a society, Americans’ consumption of fish, especially fish that contributes to these omega-3 fats, is quite low compared to other proteins,” Drouillard said. He cited cost, access to fish and personal preference as reasons. “Americans do, however, like hamburgers,” Drouillard added. “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 technology to enrich ground beef with omega-3s is a spinoff of flaxseed research Drouillard began in 1998. He 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 Kansas State University’s meat science faculty and with the department of human nutrition throughout the years to ensure that the flavor is not compromised,” Drouillard said. “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, and after more than a decade of research on improving the enrichment process, have 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, said 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 said. “Based on our consumer response, we’ve cleared those hurdles. I can’t wait for consumers to have it available to them.”