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The Defense Department is developing a shelf-stable meat that tastes less like a Slim Jim and more like chicken, beef or pork.
DoD's Combat Feeding Directorate and the Army's Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center have teamed with an Augusta, Ga.,-based company to produce meat that can sit on a shelf for two or three years and still remain soft and juicy, with a consistency similar to deli cold cuts.
The process involves grinding up a base meat such as chicken, pork or beef (vegetables are being tested as well) and passing it slowly through a continuous osmotic dehydration processor, removing water from the meat by osmosis, drawing it out with a solution of sugar and salt.
The result is a product that presses out of the dehydration machine looking like a giant Fruit Roll Up.
"The meat is extruded into a thin sheet on a sheet of parchment paper on a conveyer system. It is then pulled through an osmotic solution that extracts moisture," explained Tom Yang, a senior food scientist at the directorate.
According to Yang, the process saves 50 percent more meat than traditional jerky processing. Another bonus? It contains one-third of the sodium of jerky, he added.
"And we can use all kinds of meat: beef, chicken, pork, seafood, even venison. We've been approached by deer farmers," Yang said.
His research was funded by the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command's foreign comparative testing program; the process and machinery were developed in France.
The unique machine, owned by FPL Foods, is thought to be the only one in the U.S.
According to DoD, the product could be ready for military test and evaluation within eight months.
The dried meat is likely to have wider commercial appeal: Yang thinks companies that make products for campers, hikers, ultra-endurance athletes or anyone looking for a shelf-stable protein source will be interested.