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Natick Researcher Develops Turkey Bacon, Turkey Jerky Natick researcher

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Dr. Tom Yang wants to talk turkey.

Dr. Yang is a food technologist in the Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC). He is working on healthier forms of jerky and bacon made from turkey that he believes soldiers will gobble up. Dr. Yang has been experimenting with osmotic meat technology, which was originally developed in France, to develop the new turkey jerky and turkey bacon products that taste great but are much lower in salt and fat.

The turkey, osmotic version of jerky stays moist and avoids the texture problems of commercial jerky, which can become brittle. It is also higher in protein. The turkey version of bacon allows all Soldiers to enjoy bacon anywhere in the world because it does not contain any pork. "This is new technology, and it is very energy efficient and is inexpensive," Dr. Yang said. "The technology uses a principle called osmosis. So what we have now is a semi-dried meat. It has much less salt and stays moist."

During the process, the meat is ground and made into a paste. It is then extruded onto a sheet, sandwiched between two layers of paper and put through a conveyor.

"The conveyor will take the sheet into an osmotic tank, which contains a high concentration of non-sugar solution," Dr. Yang said. "Ninety-two to ninety-five percent of moisture will migrate from the meat into the solution. The whole process takes place at refrigeration temperature so any heat-sensitive nutrients will not be destroyed."

In addition to turkey, this process can be used on beef, pork, chicken and seafood. The meat's texture is somewhat moist, resembling the texture of prosciutto.

"The French eat the meat as is," Dr. Yang said. "It's safe. But Americans are used to a cooked-meat type of texture. So we toast it. We can then, according to the recipe, make a jerky or a bacon. The toasting is for two or three minutes at 350 degrees."

Dr. Yang's recipes add omega-3s and use lean, turkey breast. He sees applications beyond bacon and jerky.

"You could also use the meat as a wrap by wrapping the meat around vegetables," Dr. Yang said. "This type of wrap would have a lot of protein as opposed to carbohydrates. And because the meat is lean, it is not greasy at all. It is a very healthy alternative. Soldiers need more protein as opposed to carbohydrates."

In addition to working on healthier forms of bacon and jerky, Dr. Yang is also working to improve hash browns with bacon, a very popular item in the meals, ready-to-eat, or MREs. The new, healthier version has osmotic meat that tastes like bacon. It is pork-free.

"So Soldiers will be able to have the hash brown and bacon that they like without pork," Dr. Yang said. "It is healthier. There is no grease from bacon, and it is a good source of beef protein."

It is important to Dr. Yang to develop cost-efficient, good-tasting, nutritious food for the warfighter. He plans to continue to find new uses for the osmotic technology and to continue improving his recipes.

"To see Soldiers eat and like something that you have developed and see that it improves their morale and helps them perform their mission better - I think that is the most fulfilling my job as a researcher can get," Dr. Yang said. "My mission is to know they are well-fed and well-nourished. They risk their lives to protect us."
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