The tenderness of red meat could be increased after research into stimulating it with short bursts of high-voltage electricity.
Meat exporter and processor Alliance Group is working with researchers to see if controlled electrical pulses can raise meat tenderness.
Whole carcasses have been subjected to electrical stimulation since the 1970s, but its tenderising effects are limited to a few muscles.
A research team, led by food science expert Dr Alaa Bekhit, of the University of Otago, has found the use of pulsed electric field (PEF) technology can make meat cuts more tender after tests on a range of beef cuts at Alliance's Pukeuri plant near Oamaru.
The study suggests the technology can safely raise meat tenderness with little change to structure or flavour.
Alliance marketing development manager Gary Maclennan said the study was another example of innovative research to improve meat quality and drive better returns.
"This study is encouraging for us because factors such as the time elapsed from the meat being processed to being sold overseas can have an impact on the quality of meat that consumers purchase," Maclennan said.
"The quality often comes down to natural aspects in the meat, which influence toughness, moisture and shelf life. This study indicates we may have greater control over these aspects."
The study involved a limited sample, but there was potential for the technology to be applied to less tender meat cuts, he said.
Bekhit said the study was the first step in finding out how the technology could be applied to fresh meat processing.
The tenderness of meat was an important driver of repeat buying, he said.
"Tenderness is arguably the most important quality attribute of red meat," Bekhit said.
"After the meat is cooked, many of the appearance attributes become irrelevant, and flavour can be influenced with other ingredients in the meal or added flavours."
Producing consistently tender meat was important as red meat was competing with other meat such as poultry and tender meat cuts were higher priced than less tender cuts, he said.
The research identified that differences between each carcass muscle made it impossible to deliver optimal tenderness under traditional methods.
However, PEF technology could improve the tenderness of individual muscles and maximise the value of all cuts in the carcass.
Previous research had highlighted the potential benefits of the technology to process fruit and vegetables, but the study was the first to demonstrate its usefulness in meat, Bekhit said.
The research was supported by funding from the Australian Meat Processing Corporation and Meat and Livestock Australia.