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Meat Sci. 2008 Apr;78(4):343-58. doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2007.07.019. Epub 2007 Jul 21.

Fat deposition, fatty acid composition and meat quality: A review.

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Division of Farm Animal Science, Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU, UK.


This paper reviews the factors affecting the fatty acid composition of adipose tissue and muscle in pigs, sheep and cattle and shows that a major factor is the total amount of fat. The effects of fatty acid composition on meat quality are also reviewed. Pigs have high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), including the long chain (C20-22) PUFA in adipose tissue and muscle. The full range of PUFA are also found in sheep adipose tissue and muscle whereas cattle 'conserve' long chain PUFA in muscle phospholipid. Linoleic acid (18:2n-6) is a major ingredient of feeds for all species. Its incorporation into adipose tissue and muscle in relation to the amount in the diet is greater than for other fatty acids. It is deposited in muscle phospholipid at a high level where it and its long chain products eg aracidonic acid (20:4n-6) compete well for insertion into phospholipid molecules. Its proportion in pig adipose tissue declines as fat deposition proceeds and is an index of fatness. The same inverse relationships are not seen in ruminant adipose tissue but in all species the proportion of 18:2n-6 declines in muscle as fat deposition increases. The main reason is that phospholipid, where 18:2n-6 is located, declines as a proportion of muscle lipid and the proportion of neutral lipid, with its higher content of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, increases. Oleic acid (18:1cis-9), formed from stearic acid (18:0) by the enzyme stearoyl Co-A desaturase, is a major component of neutral lipid and in ruminants the same enzyme forms conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an important nutrient in human nutrition. Like 18:2n-6, α-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) is an essential fatty acid and is important to ruminants since it is the major fatty acid in grass. However it does not compete well for insertion into phospholipid compared with 18:2n-6 and its incorporation into adipose tissue and muscle is less efficient. Greater biohydrogenation of 18:3n-3 and a long rumen transit time for forage diets also limits the amount available for tissue uptake compared with 18:2n-6 from concentrate diets. A positive feature of grass feeding is that levels of the nutritionally important long chain n-3 PUFA are increased ie EPA (20:5n-3) and DHA (22:6n-3). Future research should focus on increasing n-3 PUFA proportions in lean carcasses and the use of biodiverse pastures and conservation processes which retain the benefits of fresh leafy grass offer opportunities to achieve this. The varying fatty acid compositions of adipose tissue and muscle have profound effects on meat quality. Fatty acid composition determines the firmness/oiliness of adipose tissue and the oxidative stability of muscle, which in turn affects flavour and muscle colour. Vitamin E is an essential nutrient, which stabilises PUFA and has a central role in meat quality, particularly in ruminants.

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