Here is a story about six little pigs and what makes them happier, healthier, and even tastier for dinner!
It is often said that almost every type of food seems better if it is accompanied by the right kind of liquor. Well, researchers have discovered that feeding pigs the barley mash leftovers from liquor production not only makes them much happier but better tasting, too.
So says a team of professional brewers and academic farmers connected to the University of Tokyo who have discovered that the nutrients in the leftover fermented barley from shochu – a fermented Japanese liquor – reduces the animals’ stress, resulting in better tasting sirloin meat and fillets.
Typically, shochu is distilled from rice, barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, or brown sugar. It can also be distilled from chestnuts, sesame seeds, potatoes and even carrots.
“Kyushu, in Western Japan is well-known historically for making shochu and for its many pig farms. We hope collaborative research projects like ours can directly benefit the local community and global environment,” said Yasuhisa Ano, the first author of the research paper published in Food Chemistry. Ano is affiliated with the Kirin Central Research Institute at Japanese distillery Kirin Holdings Co., Ltd.
Currently, the mash of leftovers that remains after distilling out the alcohol is considered industrial waste and is often disposed of in ways that create more climate-changing carbon dioxide. Feeding distillation leftovers to farm animals can improve the animals’ quality of life, lower farmers’ and brewers’ costs, appeal to discerning foodies and benefit the environment by reducing food waste.
Japanese shochu can be made from barley, potatoes, rice, or other starches first decomposed with mould, then fermented with yeast, and finally distilled to an alcohol content usually greater than 20 per cent. Incidentally, Japanese sake is a fermented drink always made from rice with an alcohol content typically around 15 per cent.
Researchers at the University of Tokyo 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 3 to 6 months had higher amounts of antibodies called IgA in their saliva, indicating that shochu remnants kept the pigs healthier than the standard diet. Additionally, pigs fed shochu remnants 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.
Other studies have linked healthier responses to stress to two protein building blocks called leucine and histidine peptides, which barley shochu contains in abundance.
The University of Tokyo research team performed additional tests in mice to study the effect of barley shochu distillation remnants on stress. Mice that ate the distillation remnants just once directly before a stressful event returned to normal behaviour faster than other mice. The mice who ate the shochu remnants also had normal levels of dopamine in their brains after the stressful event, indicating a better response to stress.
Researchers suspected that the lower stress and better health throughout the pigs’ lives created higher quality meat, but they asked flavour experts from Kirin for a blind taste test.
According to the experts’ palates, both 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.
“We saw no difference in the pigs’ weight gain between the two diets and the pigs were slaughtered at the standard six months of age, meaning any difference in the quality of meat was not because of a difference in the quantity of fat,” said Associate Professor Junyou Li from the University of Tokyo, a co-author of the research publication.
That higher quality taste was likely due to chemical differences in the meat. Fat from the higher-quality meat melted at lower temperatures, which creates the delicious melt-in-your-mouth texture. That fat was also made up of a higher percentage of oleic acid, an unsaturated fatty acid linked by other studies to improved levels of “healthy” LDL cholesterol.
So, not only are these little pigs happier, they are also healthier and better tasting, too. Just don’t tell that wolf.