Life Eat & Drink Makin’ tastier bacon: Liquor leftovers keep porkers placid
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Makin’ tastier bacon: Liquor leftovers keep porkers placid

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You might have eaten drunken chicken. What about plonkered pork? You might be doing the pig a favour if it’s been lightly sauced … while in the farmyard.

 A collaborative study by professional brewers and the University of Tokyo found that nutrients in leftover fermented barley – used to make the traditional Japanese liquor schochu – reduces stress in pigs.

It also makes them tastier on the plate, and is good for the climate by reducing flood waste.

Apparently geography makes pigs and brewing a natural fit.

According to a statement from the University of Tokyo, the island of Kyushu “is well-known historically for making shochu and for its many pig farms.”

Not quite smashed on the mash

The study was a small one. Researchers fed six pigs a standard diet supplemented with shochu distillation remnants, the dried mixture of barley, mould and yeast left over after distilling out the shochu.

Pigs fed shochu remnants from age three to six months “had higher amounts of antibodies called IgA in their saliva, indicating that shochu remnants kept the pigs healthier than the standard diet.”

The pigs had lower stress levels than pigs fed the normal diet supplemented with fresh barley, “as measured by the amount of cortisol, a common stress hormone, in their saliva.”

The study built on previous research that “linked healthier responses to stress to two protein building blocks called leucine and histidine peptides, which barley shochu contains in abundance.”

Not squeaking, singing

The distillation remnants were also fed to mice, one time only, and immediately before “a stressful event”.

The mice who ate the shochu remnants had normal levels of dopamine in their brains after the stressful event, indicating a better response to stress – and they returned to more relaxed behaviour faster than mice delegated to sobriety.

All of this led the researchers to conclude: “Feeding distillation leftovers to farm animals can improve the animals’ quality of life, lower farmers’ and brewers’ costs … and benefit the environment.”

Ordinarily, leftover mash is considered industrial waste

So this was good news for the farmers and brewers. But would lower stress levels mean tastier, better quality meat? The researchers suspected this was the case.

For this they recruited flavour experts from the Kirin Central Research Institute at Kirin Holdings, the company that partnered with the university.

The expert palates, in blind tests, found that “sirloin and fillet cuts of pork from the shochu remnant-fed pigs were higher quality than meat from pigs that ate the standard diet: better umami, tenderness, juiciness and flavour.”

Umami is the Japanese equivalent of overall yumminess.

The higher quality taste was “likely due to chemical differences in the meat.”

Fat from the higher-quality meat melted at lower temperatures, which the researchers say creates “the delicious melt-in-your-mouth” texture.

The researchers found no difference in the pigs’ weight gain between the two diets.