Warner-Bratzler Shear Force Test Measures Actual Tenderness
For many consumers, the measure of tenderness in beef is the presence of fat—called marbling—in the meat. In fact, the USDA beef grading scale depends largely on measuring not actual tenderness, but the presence of marbling. But, as a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln report written by Dr. Chris Calkins and Gary Sullivan points out, beef tenderness is a complex trait that results from a multiplicity of factors, of which marbling is only one.
But there are objective ways to measure the actual tenderness of a cut of beef, the most widely-used of which is the WBSF (Warner-Bratzler Shear Force) test. The WBSF test doesn’t simply guess at tenderness based on how much fat is present—it actually measures the physical force required to cut through a piece of beef.
The test has been around for over 80 years. K.F. Warner, a USDA research scientist, came up with the original design for a device to measure tenderness in 1928, and a few years later a Kansas State University grad student named L.J. Bratzler standardized both the equipment and the way it was used.
“Warner-Bratzler shear force values represent the amount of force required to drive a steel blade through a 1/2-inch core of meat,” says Nick Lahm, of Great Plains Beef. “A more tender piece of meat would require less force, while a tougher piece would require more.”
“The WBSF test is the most widely-used tool for measuring tenderness, and a lot of work has been done to correlate the measured values to consumer tenderness perceptions,” notes Lahm.
So, when subjected to the real-world objective measurements of a tool such as the WBSF test, just how tender is Certified Piedmontese?
According to Dr. Larry V. Cundiff, a USDA Agricultural Research Service researcher, Piedmontese cattle produce over 11% more lean meat than do Hereford and Angus breeds, and that lean beef is “exceptionally tender," he says.
Exactly how tender can be seen in USDA studies that report that, while Piedmontese cattle have the least amount of fat, they’re nonetheless the most tender. For example, recent UNL data indicates that traditional New York strip samples require a shear force of 5.2kg, while Certified Piedmontese New York strip samples required only 2.84kg of force: Thus, the Certified Piedmontese sample was almost twice as tender as traditional beef.
Of course, the ultimate tests of tenderness and taste are yours, and they occur not in a laboratory, but at your dinner table. When you try Certified Piedmontese, you’ll see for yourself that lean beef can be tender, juicy, and delicious.
The lower the WBS, the more tender the meat
In this study, Piedmontese ranked as most tender, followed by Pinzgauer, then Hereford, out of 11 breeds compared in the USDA-MARC GermPlasm Evaluations. Further – Piedmontese crosses had the highest retail product percent, and the second lowest IMF in this comparison.
A note on Calpastatin and Calpain
Calpain, a calcium-dependent protease, has been recognized as a key player in postmortem tenderization of skeletal muscle (Koohmaraie, 1996). Calpastatin is a widely distributed endogenous inhibitor protein that specifically acts on calpain. The calpain system, and its inhibitor, calpastatin, is believed to be the primary proteolytic enzyme system involved in postmortem tenderization of aged beef (Koohmaraie et al., 1991). Koohmaraie (1996) indicated that the degradation of structural muscle proteins by calpain is responsible for meat tenderization during postmortem storage of meat. Calpastatin activity at 24 h postmortem is inversely proportional to postmortem tenderization and accounts for a greater proportion of the variation in beef tenderness than any other single variable (Koohmaraie, 1994).