Study reveals that meat quality improves when essential oils are added to feed

Use of clove and rosemary essential oils with encapsulated active principles in feed may reduce oxidation of meat and improve shelf life, say researchers. An international team of researchers in Brazil and Spain examined the use essential oils in feed on the meat quality of grain-finished cattle. The group published its work in the journal of Meat Science.

“This study aimed to investigate the effects of essential oils (clove and rosemary), their encapsulated active principles (eugenol, thymol and vanillin mixture) and blends thereof on the meat quality of feedlot-finished heifers fed on high-grain diets. Researchers found that use of the feed additives did not alter fat thickness, marbling, muscle area, thawing, drip loss or pH for meat produced, they said. However, the supplements influenced color loss and lipid oxidation. “Cooking losses were affected at 14 days of aging by the diet containing clove and rosemary essential oil and the active principles (eugenol, thymol and vanillin),” ​said the researchers. “In general, the dietary inclusion of these compounds lessened color degradation, increased antioxidant activity and decreased lipid oxidation in the meat. Thus, these compounds have potential use in animal feed to maintain [and, or] improve meat quality during its shelf life.” Synergistic effect on animal metabolism and beef quality. Different plants have specific active components that alter characteristics, said the authors. Essential oils, they noted, are a mix of terpenoids primarily including monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes and sometimes diterpenes. “They also include a variety of low molecular weight aliphatic hydrocarbons, acids, alcohols, aldehydes, acyclic esters or lactones and N- and S-containing compounds, such as coumarins, and homologs of phenylpropanoids may also be present,” said the researchers. “These products may act as antimicrobials (oils of clove, rosemary, thyme and vanillin are some of the most effective due to the presence of phenolic compounds) and antioxidants, benefiting the immune and digestive system of animals, which is reflected in their performance indices.”

When a blend of oils is used, there may be a synergistic effect on animal metabolism and beef quality, they said. Plants containing thymol and carvacrol are considered to have “high antioxidant potential”​ because they include phenolic terpenes, they said. Vanilin, has been linked to antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. However, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)​ is considered to have more antioxidant activity than other essential oils, especially in meat, they said. It has several phenolic compounds, added the team. Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)​ also provides a range of phenolic compounds and is considered to have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, said the researchers. Some previous work has explored the potential for essential oils to alter meat quality or prolong the shelf life, however information on their interaction with meat quality is limited, they said.