High steaks – creating a point of difference for Australian beef

24 August 2023

Australian beef producers could lead the world by developing ‘flavour profiles’ for premium products similar to those used in the wine industry, according to a leading University of Queensland researcher.

Sensory scientist and flavour chemist Associate Professor Heather Smyth from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation said current terminology falls well short of describing quality Australian beef. “The key measure for beef quality has been tenderness or a lack of toughness – but that’s something knowledgeable consumers and the broader market now consider a minimum requirement,” Dr Smyth said. “Simply describing premium beef as ‘tender’ just doesn’t cut it. “We already use sensory language to define and promote the qualities of wine, beer, coffee and seafood - so it stands to reason we should also have one for beef.”

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Dr Smyth has told the Northern Beef Research Update Conference in Darwin, that flavour profiles for beef would boost exports. “Australia produces such high-quality beef, it would be invaluable to set ourselves apart in that premium space,” she said.“We should be highlighting the unique flavour qualities from our environments, genetics and the way we manage and treat the beef.”Dr Smyth said there was industry support from premium brands in Australia that want to differentiate themselves from one another, with flavour being the answer.

"Flavour in beef is derived from genetics, animal management, diet and environment but we also need to understand what the compounds are that cause those differences in flavour, let alone describing the sensory nuance they might create,” she said. “After describing the unique flavour and aroma qualities, we would then need to put chemical signatures behind them to ensure what makes our beef so special can be managed consistently and enhanced.”

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Dr Smyth said better flavour descriptions for beef would also allow people to connect with the product, the way they do with wine or other food products. Westholme Wagyu Wheel we created with the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) a few years ago proved that this extra level of information is possible and valuable for consumers and chefs,” she said.“People selling or marketing beef, even restaurants need these sensory terms as well as industry training to describe why one steak might be a better choice for a consumer than another.“Consumers paying premium prices really do want that level of sophistication.“The beef industry globally suffers the same problem, so this is a chance for Australia to lead the way in creating elite brands based on flavour.”