Brand Insights from Kemin
Wet pet food is a popular choice among pet owners, with more than 6.5 billion kgs sold in 20221. Pet owners often see wet pet food as a more premium option than traditional dry kibble diets. They expect their preferred wet pet food brand to be palatable to their pets and have the same appealing aroma, color, and texture every time they open a can or pouch. Consistency in these qualities is particularly important for pet food manufacturers to maintain their brand image. Flavor, aroma, color, and texture can be affected by key parameters of pet food production, including processing conditions, pH, grind size, and thickeners.
THE RIGHT TEXTURE
While each wet pet meat dough manufacturing process may be unique, it has been observed that meat grind and disintegration quality affect loaf pâté texture or hardness. It has been observed that cats preferentially eat diets with significantly softer loaf pâté texture versus a harder one. Pet parents may also prefer the look of a softer loaf pâté versus a hard, brittle one2. Loaf pâté quality is a metric Kemin measure on diets manufactured at their Wet Pet Food Pilot Plant. Kemin Texture Testing3 A texture analyzer with a ball probe can simulate the feel of meat in an animal’s mouth and on their model diet. Diets with various meat cutting shear were manufactured at the Kemin Wet Pet Food Pilot Plant and compared to a commercially available Turkey and Giblet Loaf Pâté diet using Tukey Honest Square Differences statistical analyses, with a p-value less than 0.05 to distinguish texture differences. The Turkey and Giblet Loaf Pâté recipe with minimal meat grinding and cutting shear had a significantly harder loaf pâté than two times and three times more shear [Figure 1]. Compared to desired texture of the benchmark loaf pâté diet, it is observed that too little cutting shear created a significantly harder loaf pâté. Using two times and three times more cutting shear made similar texture hardness to benchmark loaf pâté.
ACHIEVING THE IDEAL “LOOK”
Just like cooking a steak or chicken breast releases juices, meats in a wet pet diet release water during sterilization cooking through the retort process. Meat scientists refer to these juices as weep, syneresis, or expressible moisture. Loaf pâté diets sometimes have too much liquid weep, which may thin out the gravy or gel. Too much weep can adversely affect consumer perception, as some consumers view quality wet pet diets as having thick liquid like gravy or gel. Often thickeners like starches, gums, and proteins are added to diets and special processing is used to enhance soluble proteins and reduce liquid weep. Literature from Kansas State University confirmed that wet pet diets containing only the ingredients necessary for complete and balanced nutrition may be too thin to rapidly fill cans, have sedimentation challenges, and express too much liquid after sterilization cooking.
The type and quantity of thickeners must be balanced to achieve the right “look”, including the right amount and thickness of the liquid in a wet diet. Both “Thick to Thin” and “Thin to Thick” ingredients are necessary.
“Thick to Thin” Guar gum is a popular ingredient to add to nutritious wet pet meat doughs to thicken it, maintain a homogenous mixture, and rapidly fill cans. After sterilization cooking, wet pet diets with added guar gum resemble diets with no guar gum. In other words, the viscosity and thickness provided by guar gum assist in cooking but not to maintain a thick liquid after cooking.
“Thin to Thick” Other thickeners, gums, and proteins are added to nutritious wet pet meat doughs to enhance their qualities after sterilization cooking. These gums are considered “Thin to Thick” ingredients, among them kappa carrageenan, xanthan gum, and locust bean gum. These thickeners offer some viscosity before the cooking step but have been observed to thicken the remaining liquid and to significantly reduce liquid after sterilization cook.
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