News Column

Don't Like Fish? Try an Omega-3 Hamburger

March 8, 2013

Ryan D. Wilson, Clay Center Dispatch, Kan.

Researchers at Kansas State University have developed beef with the same healthy Omega-3 fatty acid and proteins found in fish.

Enriching beef with Omega-3 fatty acids could eventually lead to a bacon cheeseburger that contains all of the daily recommended Omega-3 fatty acids, a K-State professor and researcher told Lions Club members on Tuesday.

Research on Omega-3 beef enrichment has taken the better part of decade and started out as an attempt to improve the physical and reproductive health of cattle by feeding them flax seed, a grain grown primarily in North Dakota and Canada that's rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, said Jim Drouillard, a K-State professor specializing in beef cattle nutrition.

The research found that, as a side effect, some of the Omega-3 fatty acids from the flax seed transferred into the fat and meat consumed by humans, and the cattle converted some of those fatty acids into the same kind of healthy proteins and fats found in fish.

Marketing Omega-3 rich foods is a multi-billion dollar business. While there are lots of options for Omega-3 foods found in the supermarket, there isn't a whole lot of meat that contains Omega-3 aside from certain types of marine fish, Drouillard said.

While most people know that Omega-3 is good for you, particularly for your heart, Americans don't tend to consume much of the marine fish that contain Omega-3, or any other foods that contain Omega-3, Drouillard said. But the knowledge that it's good for your heart, can reduce rheumatoid arthritis and depression and increase reproductive health makes Omega-3 enrichment of beef a viable market, he said.

Fine-tuning the Omega-3 enrichment process has taken considerable resources to determine how much flax seed should be fed to cattle and other measures to refine and market the beef.

Initially researchers found that the Omega-3 made beef taste like cardboard, which is generally associated with oxidation of the meat. To prevent the change in taste, the cattle are also fed Vitamin E supplements. By doing this Omega-3 beef is indistinguishable from normal beef, Drouillard said.

Given that the Omega 3 is richest in the fat from the animal, the research has turned something that had almost no value and was trimmed to be used in dog food into something that is at least as valuable as the meat, if not more.

To enrich hamburger with Omega-3, the Omega-3 rich fat from cattle who have been fed flax and Vitamin E is blended with lean meat, Drouillard explained.

Because universities are "lousy" at marketing, K-State handed this component to Bernie Hansen, who, through Flint Hills Food, had successfully marketed beef shoulder roasts that could be cooked in the microwave with a pre-cooking patent. Hansen also had quite a bit of success with marketing Alma Cheese.

Hansen first started with Omega-3 hamburger, which hit grocery shelves in Buffalo, N.Y., in January, 2013.

You can't yet get this hamburger at a local grocery store or a store in Kansas, but it should be available in stores across the country by the end of the year, Drouillard said.

The Omega-3 beef would cost a little more than standard beef but "not nearly as much" as grass fed or organic beef, he said.

The reason Hansen and the university started with hamburger is because most of the beef carcass can be used to make Omega-3 hamburger. Drouillard said Omega-3 steaks and other cuts will eventually come, but steaks only use a small part of the carcass.

Hansen also has been experimenting with Omega-3 enrichment of milk by feeding flax to dairy cattle. The Omega-3 milk is turned into cheese and ice cream.

But unlike the meat, "you can definitely tell a difference" with milk and dairy products enriched with Omega 3, Drouillard said. Omega 3 dairy products have a different taste and texture, he said.

"It's not bad, just different," he said.

Whether Omega-3 dairy products would see demand remains to be seen. A similar effort to market Omega-3 rich soybeans to health minded people tanked because that crowd just wasn't interested, Drouillard said.

When Omega-3 ice cream was tested in a limited release at K-State, it received a lukewarm response, he said.

"It could be that ice cream is one of those sin foods that people are okay with (going without Omega 3)," he said.

Hansen is also working with the pork industry to produce Omega-3 rich pork, so Omega-3 bacon may soon be available.

Researchers have estimated that a hamburger topped with Omega-3 bacon and Omega-3 cheese would meet all of the daily recommendations for Omega-3 consumption, Drouillard said.

And given that Americans wouldn't have to make a life-style change to include more Omega-3 in their diet, the health of Americans could greatly improve, he said.

Source: (c)2013 the Clay Center Dispatch (Clay Center, Kan.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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